Like an out of control train on speed, Quebecers are headed towards another train wreck with identity issues. It’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show again.
Wade into these debates at your own peril as former premier Lucien Bouchard learned this week, because this is mixed martial arts combat at its worst. No combatant is ever declared a winner and accordingly no combatant is ever a loser.
Everyone just keeps fighting and fighting and fighting, bloodied and more bloodied.
It’s time that a few principles were reasserted into this never-ending loop. And the first: just as Ontario is a predominantly English-speaking society, so too is Quebec a predominantly French-speaking society, even though both provinces provide services and legal protections to their linguistic minority.
This does not mean that 100 per cent of citizens will – or should – speak French in Quebec 100 per cent of the time, anymore than 100 per cent of Ontarians will speak English all of the time.
It does mean that there is a common – or official – language that citizens should share and in which they should collectively take pride.
It means that language training should be readily and freely available for new immigrants to learn the language and culture of their new neighbours, schoolmates and co-workers, maybe not always proficiently for first generation arrivals, but sufficiently.
The majority has the right to that expectation and an obligation to provide the services for its achievement.
Second fundamental principle: as a minority language within Canada, special measures need and will be legislated for the preservation and promotion of the French language, particularly but not just exclusively within Quebec.
Hopefully, in their wisdom, legislators will put a disproportionate emphasis on the promotion side of any future legislative measures. Buy-in always works better than imposition.
But legislative measures must be consistent with the Charter of Rights – Quebec’s and Canada’s. Consistency with common sense wouldn’t hurt either.
However, the majority in a free society does not have the right to impose how someone worships, how they dress in their personal lives or that they forsake their cultural heritage wholesale at the border. A hint: some practices must be left behind.
The state has a duty – within reasonable limits – to adapt policies and regulations, sometimes on a case-by-case basis, to better meet the individual needs of members of certain cultural communities. Such isolated accommodations are not a threat to Quebec.
And when rights clash as they will, it should fall upon the individuals directly concerned to reach an accommodation, and for the courts to decide when they can’t.
One of the great things about judges in Canada is that they don’t run for re-election and it’s high time that we removed this whole debacle of a debate from partisan political discourse and threw it back to judges to settle when required.
There’s something distinctly repugnant about politicians trying to make political hay by dividing citizens on identity questions, because it’s a debate that too easily descends into that ‘us’ versus ‘them’ terrain, and when it does we lose.