The information contained in this article is common knowledge for francophone Québec but is rarely available in English and as such virtually unknown to English Canada. This leads to many misunderstandings, often referred to as the two solitudes.
La Charte des valeurs: A Cocktail Which Appeals to Many Progressives and Feminists as well as Regressives, but for Different Reasons
Contrary to what many in English Canada may think, the debate in Quebec about La Charte des valeurs (Charter of Values) represents a cocktail of factors.
One of the main components of the cocktail has to do with the Québec dark years known as "la grande noirceur", the years during which the Québec francophone community lived under draconian Catholic Church rule, a Church which censured music and films, sent women who had sexual relations prior marriage into the streets, and abducted children born outside marriage to be put in Church orphanages. One might say that these dark years are now looked upon by the majority of Québécois as being as reprehensible as residential schools are for members of Canada's First Nations.
Accordingly, the sentiment to separate religion from the state is a several notches stronger in Quebec than in the rest of Canada.
Add to these elements of the cocktail, that, for women, these dark years included the classification of woman in a male controlled inferior zone. Consequently, many in the feminist movement want to make sure that religious symbols of inferiorization, worn on one's body or otherwise, are banned from the public sector.
Yet another component of the cocktail is the Duplessis years, 1936-1039 and 1944-1959, the years during which late Premier Duplessis had a pact with the Catholic Church to control the people. Under the pact, the Church would run the Catholic schools, the hospitals and civil society in general, as long as the Catholic Church kept the people docile under the Duplessis economic development formula entailing cheap labour and union/communist busting features. In honour of this pact, in 1936 Premier Duplessis had a crucifix placed over the Speaker's chair in the National Assembly.
Pauline Marois Calculated Targeting of Markets, Similar to the Harper Model: The December 2013 Election Plan that Failed
Pauline Marois, like Stephen Harper, wants to be in full control and consequently detests minority governments -- her government is a minority government. But because her first year in power has been one of a seemingly endless series of incoherent improvisations, she had lost control of public opinion. -- In that sense, her government is not all that different than the Charest Liberal government that preceded the PQ.
While she had promised she would eliminate the heath tax during her election campaign, her first budget included a health tax of $200 for those earning $42,000 to $100,000. Another election promise entailed addressing the absurdly low royalties and taxes paid by Quebec's mining industry, but once in power she backed down to the industry lobby. She had promised to migrate Quebec to a green economy but so far she seems okay with the two pipeline proposals to transport tar sands oil into, and crossing over, Quebec, and is not ruling out exploiting potential local oil reserves.
All this added up to widespread dissatisfaction with the Marois government and poor prospects for pursuing a majority government. This is where La Charte comes in.
In early Fall 2013, figuring her government could position the PQ for a majority government by creating a perceived crisis among québécois to the effect Quebec had an epidemic of new religious immigrants who were imposing religious accommodations on the majority population, Pauline Marois introduced the Charte.
This Fall 2013 game plan entailed calling an election for December 2013, while La Charte was a hot topic, and cut into the Québec homogenous outlying regions' right wing nationalist vote -- a game plan to foster a migration of Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec (CAQ) vote over to the PQ. That made "political sense" in that CAQ support is declining.
This election game plan also counted on the feminist movement. Accordingly, as did Harper when he placed "correct thinking" people on the Board of Rights and Democracy, Marois appointed 4 new "correct thinking" members to the Conseil du statut de la femme (Council on the Status of Women). But it backfired when the President of the Conseil, Julie Miville-Dechêne, publicly denounced this political interference. The reality is that the woman's movement in Québec is divided on the issue.
Montreal Municipal Elections: November 3, 2013
During this same Fall 2013 period, all four of the main candidates for Mayor of Montreal for the November 3, 2013 elections came out against the Charte.
On November 3, Denis Coderre, former federal Liberal Cabinet minister, the very in the box unimaginative candidate for Mayor with a very sparse and vague platform - he actually thinks more parking spaces downtown is a solution for Montreal, Canada's most congested city- became the city's new Mayor with 32% of the vote. On La Charte, Coderre had said in one of the election debates that he would contest La Charte in the courts if it included the ban on religious symbols in the public sector.
For those in BC, it may be also interesting to note that innovative visionary candidate for Mayor, Richard Bergeron of Projet Montréal, often referred to Vancouver as a model for urban densification and a green city. He came in second with 25.6%.
Others Adding their Voices Against La Charte: Provincial Election Bluff Called Off
Concurrent with the municipal election campaigning, others condemning the La Charte elements pertaining to the wearing of religious symbols were Quebec's hospitals' association, universities, a teachers' union, a private daycare centres' association and many more.
Adding his voice to this opposition, the President of La Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (human rights and youth rights commission), Jacques Frémont, went public to say La Charte would not pass the test of either the Quebec Charter of Rights or the Canadian Charter of Rights in the event of a legal challenge. Either the PQ would have to modify the proposed Charte or revert to the "Notwithstanding clause."
In effect, it has become very clear that it would be impossible to apply La Charte in the Montreal Statistics Canada census area, which attracts 87% of Québec immigrants and which represents over 45% of the population of Québec.
But all these obstacles did not deter the PQ.
Rather, the factor that changed Pauline Marois's mind about going into a December 2013 election with the highly emotional Charte as a wedge issue, was the fact that the polls did not deliver the hoped for support. As a result, as of October 27, 2013, the December 2013 election hype has been called off.
Swinging Further to the Right
Cultivating the right nationalist vote for La Charte, is not, unfortunately an isolated incident.
Shortly after coming into power, the Marois government appointed Pierre Karl Péladeau -- controlling shareholder of Quebecor and The Sun Media and well-known for his support of right wing causes -- to sit on the Board of Hydro-Québec. Péladeau has since attended at least two Marois Cabinet meetings.
His spouse, Julie Snyder, host of the popular Star Académie (Québec equivalent to American Idol), is one of the members of the Janette movement, a women's movement in support of La Charte. Julie Snyder is also involved in the development of a television production on a favourable portrait of Pauline Marois to be aired on TVA, a TV network owned by the Pierre Karl Péladeau media empire.
Which brings us back to what Pauline Marois said when she became the leader of the PQ. At the time she said she would modernize social democracy. She never explained what she meant, but after a year in power, it is becoming clearer as to what she had in mind -- go after the right wing nationalist vote to put sovereignty over the top. Fortunately for Canada, the game plan is not working.