Will you now condemn Quebec’s Bill 21, Mr. Trudeau?

Now that the election is over, will you admit that the question put to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was completely appropriate? 

Shachi Kurl. Image: News 1130

During the Sept. 9 debate of political leaders, moderator Shachi Kurl prefaced her question to Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism, yet you defend legislation, such as bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones.”

Then why does your party, Kurl continued, support “discriminatory laws?”

Later, Mr. Trudeau, you said: “The premise of the question was wrong and quite frankly insulting to Quebeckers,” said Trudeau. “We know there is lots of work to do across the country to fight against systemic discrimination, to stand up against intolerance.”

The premise of the question was right on. If you weren’t so desperate to appease Bloc Quebecois supporters and curry their favour, you would have acknowledged how legitimate the question was.

You, and the other two leaders, were quivering in your boots at the thought of displeasing some Quebecers. You could have shown more spine and supported groups most discriminated by Bill 21; groups who dress differently because of their customs and culture.

Groups represented by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, for example. Fatema Abdalla, communications co-ordinator at the NCCM, said there was nothing wrong with the debate question itself.

“We must be clear that a law [Bill 21] that enshrines second-class citizenship to Quebec Muslims, Sikhs and Jews must be called out as discriminatory. At this very moment, we must see a clear commitment to calling it for what it is,” she said.

Quebec’s Bill 21 bans some public-sector workers such as teachers and police officers from wearing religious symbols or attire on the job.

“These laws are not about discrimination. They are about the values of Quebec,” Mr. Blanchet replied. He accused Ms. Kurl of unfairly criticizing Quebec in her question.

Shame on you, Mr. Blanchet for playing identity politics. What you describe as “values” are the fears of Quebecers that they under siege.  Bill 21 is a thinly veiled attack on people that look different. You claim that you are transferring power to ordinary people by removing religious symbols, specifically immigrants’ clothing. But Bill 21 is everything about fear of the “other” and nothing about the power of religions; now marginalized anyway.

Quebecers are confident, outward looking, cosmopolitan people. Many disagree with you. According to a opinion poll conducted in 2019, one-third of Quebecers don’t support your noxious bill.

Your identity politics didn’t work that well, did they Mr. Blanchet? You only picked up two more seats compared to the last federal election and most of those were from rural Quebec.

In urban areas, where people actually interact with immigrants, those fears evaporate. Montrealers overwhelmingly rejected your party.

Shachi Kurl’s question was tough but fair. It had been agreed on by a consortium of broadcasters.

Quebec’s politicians would not hesitate to ask hard questions of the rest of Canada –nor should they.

Too often, Canadians timidly defer valid criticisms of Quebec, apprehensive that they will politically-incorrect.

The politics of fear must to be exposed, Mr. Trudeau.  Not only should you challenge Bill 21 in court, but you should confront the shadowy fear of others wherever it’s found in Canada.

Not your father’s minority government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government is not like his father’s. When Pierre Trudeau won minority government in 1972, he didn’t have the support of opposition parties. The government only lasted 1 year, 221 days. His minority government introduced the unpopular Petro-Canada Crown Corporation that reminded Albertans of the despised National Energy Program. Petro-Canada’s reddish-coloured headquarters in Calgary were tagged “red square.”

P.M. Lester Pearson. Image by Nobel Foundation, Associated Press

Given the bluster from the United Conservative Party of Alberta, you wouldn’t think that the Liberals have any support from the Conservatives until you consider that they both want the Trans Mountain pipeline built.

Consider the following, suggests my Calgary friend:

“I think the conservatives and liberals are not that far apart on the pipeline issue. If the liberals make good on our 4.5 Billion dollar investment in the TMP they will get no support from the NDP or the BLOC but the conservatives would be foolish not to support it.”

Wouldn’t that be something to behold? If the NDP or the Bloc Québécois opposed a pro-pipeline bill, how could the Conservatives not support it without appearing hypocritical? And the NDP and Bloc could then wash their hands of the project that offends environmentalists.

Justin Trudeau has consistently said that he is going to build the Trans Mountain pipeline. He repeated that goal after the October 21, 2109, election.

While reactions to the federal election have focused on a divided country, I see Justin Trudeau’s Liberals offering something for everyone.

The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois can work together on social policy and the environment. The Bloc Québécois has made it clear that they intend to support this Liberal minority government. BQ Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that the Liberals should do “what it takes” to make Parliament work. He added there’s a law stating that government mandates are supposed to last four years. I’m not sure that’s true for minority governments but Blanchet’s support is clear.

Who knows, if successful, Trudeau’s minority government could be re-elected as was a minority government in 1965, one before Pierre Trudeau’s.

The NDP and the Liberals have the common goal of implementing Pharmacare. Both parties campaigned on bringing the much-needed plan into reality.

Canada is an anomaly among nations. We are the only industrialized country with a universal public health care system but no Pharmacare. Every study of Canada’s health care has identified the lack of Pharmacare as a major gap in our system. Medicare without drug coverage doesn’t even make sense. What good is a health care system that prescribes drugs but doesn’t cover them?

Justin Trudeau’s minority government should look to the accomplishments of minority governments before his father’s. Lester Pearson’s Liberals implemented universal health care with the cooperation of the NDP. And his minority government was so successful that it was re-elected as a minority government with back-to-back Liberal minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965.

How fitting is it that this minority government complete the Medicare program started by minority governments, a goal not attempted by his father.