By proposing a law on "interculturalism," the Quebec Liberals have legitimized the principle of new restrictions on minority rights.
As if Quebec politics wasn’t rancorously polarized enough already, the supposedly inclusive provincial Liberals, of all parties, have added not one, but two new divisive identity issues to the agenda.
With the apparent approval of most of their party elders, including all the declared and potential candidates for the vacant Liberal leadership, the party’s youth wing last weekend adopted resolutions calling for a Quebec internal constitution and a law on “interculturalism.”
The constitution would be written by a representative constituent assembly. Since federal politicians refuse to provide another political crisis in Quebec over constitutional reform, the Liberals would produce their own.
The interculturalism law would — well, to begin with, it would say what interculturalism is, which the Liberal youth resolution doesn’t.
The law would set government goals for “managing cultural diversity,” based on a number of principles. These include French as the language of “intercultural relations,” “the recognition of the presence, in Quebec, of a French-speaking majority group,” and “the respect of fundamental rights and liberties.”
It’s not clear what the “recognition of the presence in Quebec of the French-speaking majority group” means, or, if it’s anything more than a statement of the obvious, how it might affect the respect of minority rights.
But the chair of the Liberal party’s cultural communities commission was right to express concern that interculturalism “divides us between majority culture and minority cultures,” “is fundamentally unequal” and creates “a hierarchy among Quebecers.”
“Quebec interculturalism” is a term popularized in the 2008 report of the Bouchard-Taylor provincial commission on religious accommodations, and is often confused with multiculturalism.
But while multiculturalism treats different cultures in a society as equal, Quebec interculturalism, as the Bouchard-Taylor report says, “seeks to reconcile ethnocultural diversity with the continuity of the French-speaking core and the preservation of the social link.”
The clear implication is that minority rights would be limited by the right of the French-speaking “core” to preserve its language and culture.
The Liberals haven’t explained why Quebec needs a law on interculturalism (or, for that matter, a written constitution). Maybe that’s because it doesn’t.
To reinforce French by integrating immigrants, it already has Bill 101. And francophones, as the political majority, already have the power to adopt additional measures to protect their language and culture.
Only the Liberals themselves need an interculturalism law, or rather the promise of one. Or at least they think they need it, to look more nationalist to French-speaking voters. Picture the blue paint that half-covered Mel Gibson’s face in Braveheart.
But there’s no evidence that the former Liberal government lost last year’s election because it had failed to adopt a law on interculturalism. (It did promise a policy on interculturalism before the election, but almost nobody noticed, and the promise was forgotten.)
Inevitably, the Liberal proposal was too moderate to satisfy the nationalist Québecor commentators who are the province’s real opinion leaders, who dismissed it — rightly — as political marketing. Let’s call it bluewashing.
If the choice for francophones in the next election comes down to the authentically nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec or a pale-blue copy, a CAQ Lite, they would probably prefer the original. And non-francos, who started to desert the Liberals in the last election, might have another reason for staying home in the next.
The only way the Liberals can eliminate the CAQ’s nationalist advantage is to copy it all the way. To begin with, to drop their opposition to the CAQ government’s anti-hijab Bill 21, and promise that a Liberal government would renew the law’s notwithstanding clause overriding the constitutional charter of rights. That would almost certainly split the Liberal party, if the interculturalism proposal doesn’t do it first.
But simply by proposing an interculturalism law, the most multicultural party in Quebec politics has done the authentically nationalist parties a favour. It has legitimized the principle of new legislation that could restrict minority rights, clearing the way for more muscular “improvements.”