Ethnic Vote Pandering Runs Headlong Into Quebec Headgear “Iceberg” for Gov’t and Opposition
Pandering for “ethnic” votes appears to be a full time hobby of many Canadian politicians – and often it leaves the New Canadian (or visible minority) communities confused and perplexed. The parties’ policies often contradict the glad-handing, event-attending, samosa and egg-roll munching public visages of their multicultural-vote-getting-MP proxies. Parties still attempt to use the old-school method of appeasing so-called “community leaders” to try to win swaths of “ethnics” – even if that party’s actual policies are detrimental to the very group they are reaching out to.
Nowhere is this issue playing itself out more dramatically than the recent moves in Quebec to ban the wearing of religious headgear in public places. Three politically key minority communities – of interest to all parties as potential electoral ‘game-changers’ in many urban/suburban ridings – are the targets of this clearly racist policy: Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim Canadians. Recent cases of discrimination against youth of Muslim and Sikh religious backgrounds have drawn public attention to the matter.
Certainly the Prime Minister would stand against policies which promote fear and xenophobia? Perhaps Mr. Harper’s party’s historical stance on such issues precludes them from such ‘lofty’ and selfless ideals, but what about the Leader of the Official Opposition? Certainly Mr. Mulcair’s NDP would seize this opportunity to point out Emperor Harper’s lack of clothes? Social justice matters are supposedly key parts of NDP policy, but perhaps they threw that part out along with the definition of their party during their last national convention?
Nothing but the proverbial ‘crickets’ from the parties representing the two largest groups of MPs in Parliament. Not even ‘token’ sympathy from their ‘visibly ethnic’ MPs of Sikh, Muslim, or Jewish descent.
Only ONE national political Leader stood up for the offended minorities. Mr. Trudeau wasn’t just speaking his own convictions, but reflecting values of his party from before the days of his father’s recognition of multiculturalism as a key component of Canadian society. He was also reflecting a strong desire to protect basic Charter rights – fundamental human rights.
To say the proposed Quebec policies (with multi-party backing) are hurtful to minorities is an understatement. The very identity of some very religious citizens is being challenged. Their right to worship as they please – without impacting anyone around them – is clearly being attacked, in what is being touted as an issue of creating an “equal” society. Proponents claim the policy will ensure no-one is singled out, or allowed to influence others with the symbols of their religion. But, what if the religion is symbolic in it’s very nature? What if the symbols of the religion define the very person wearing them? Denying the symbols to these believers is denial of the right to practice their religion freely. Worse, this policy attracts all the haters and racists who have been chomping at the ‘bit’ to practice their intolerance.
So why would the Harper Conservatives have nothing to say about this matter? One has to look into that party’s history to understand. The precursor to the Conservative Party – the Reform Party – was the most (and only) outspoken party when it came to the issue of Sikhs wearing turbans in the RCMP, and in Legion Halls in mainly rural Western ridings. ”In the 1990s when the issue at hand was whether Sikh Mounties should be allowed to wear turbans. The most vocal opposition to that proposal came from Alberta and the Reform Party” (Toronto Star, Sept. 3rd, 2013). Another matter is at play: Jason Kenney – self-described “Minister of Curry in a Hurry” – is also one of the Conservative Party’s pretenders to the Harper throne. Party leadership contenders have already been critical of Kenney’s attempted bridge-building with “very ethnics” (since many of them have little hope – or care – to do so themselves). Harper is not likely to do anything to assist Kenney in his quest to take his job.
Looking into the very basis of ‘conservative’ movements worldwide, most politically astute individuals would understand that conservative movements don’t typically stand up for minorities – quite the opposite. The ideological support of minorities and human rights is typically a ‘liberal’ pursuit, while conservative movements tend to be more concerned with, and related to, the building of empires and colonies – and tend to reflect those colonial mindsets towards ethnic minorities, particularly of the ‘visible’ variety.
So whither the ‘liberal’ parties in Canada? We know the Federal Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau have come out squarely on the side of the minority groups in this matter. But what about the NDP? Why has there been no outrage from the NDP on this matter? A party founded on principles of social justice should surely speak out on this matter. So why nothing? Why is Mulcair silent?
The fact is, the NDP is immersed in a bigger dilemma than that of Harper’s party. While the Conservatives have identified their strongly conservative supporter base, and basically campaign to pull only that vote (while dissuading others from voting), the NDP has seen a shift of their support – particularly their MP base – to Quebec. More than half of Mulcair’s MPs are from Quebec, and the NDP hopes to retain those seats (many in rural, more ‘conservative’ Quebec) as a ‘base’ of their own. Given the meteoric rise and decline of many political movements in Quebec, this may not be the wisest strategy, but the Mulcair NDP is sticking to it. For the sole purpose of political gain the NDP is willing to abandon Canadian ethnic minorities. Tommy Douglas must be rolling over in his grave right about now. Certainly on the ground many NDP supporters – even key campaign workers – are upset. In the ROC (‘rest of Canada’) NDP stalwarts are shaking their heads at the Mulcair decision. This is not the first decision NDP core members have scratched their heads’ about. The sellout by the NDP for perceived Quebec votes now includes the sellout of New Canadians, and the very founding principles of the party.
The Liberal Party of Canada – a party which could only take one stand on this matter – has clearly come out on the side of Charter Rights. This is in agreement with the history of the party as the party which opened Canada to most new immigration; the party that brought the vote to women; the party which created the concept of multiculturalism – an ‘experiment’ that is celebrated worldwide; and the party which gave birth to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Trudeau did his father – and party forefathers – proud when he stood up for New Canadians and religious minorities. His is not a wonton political decision, but a decision steeped in 100s of years of Liberal and ‘liberal’ philosophy. A decision that reflects the presence of the spirit of the father in the son – something that will be remembered and celebrated in precisely the minority communities other parties are attempting to curry favour with. The Liberals even shared a formal press release to announce their commitment (see below) to human rights.
Few political leaders in recent Canadian history have shown the backbone Mr. Trudeau has on this matter, and for this he must be given the credit he deserves.
Official statement by MP Paul McCallum:
Proposed Quebec Ban on Religious Symbols is Unacceptable
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has slammed the Government of Quebec for proposing new rules which would ban religious headwear worn by doctors, teachers, and others with salaries paid by the public sector. It is astonishing that such a proposal to drastically curtail religious and individual rights could emerge in Canada in 2013. It is also astonishing that federal political leaders other than Justin Trudeau, notably Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair, have greeted this outrage with a cowardly silence. When the basic rights and freedoms of Canadians are put at risk, all federal political leaders should openly and visibly speak out for justice and a free society.
As the newly appointed Liberal spokesperson for immigration, multiculturalism and seniors, I am deeply committed to the principles of Canadian religious and personal freedoms as espoused by Justin Trudeau. According to Statistics Canada, the city of Markham, which includes my riding of Markham-Unionville, is Canada’s most diverse community. I know from talking to my constituents of all ethnicities and religions that they would be shocked by the proposal that Sikh doctors should not be allowed to wear their turbans, nor Muslims their Hijabs or Jews their yarmulkes. Indeed, as one who has lived more than half my life in the province of Quebec, I know that the great majority of Quebecers are also open-minded and welcoming. Such backward and draconian measures have no place in twenty-first century Canada.
It is true that this ban on headwear in Quebec is unlikely to come into effect. The province currently has a minority government, and it is unlikely that the opposition parties would support such extreme action. Moreover, the rights of all Canadians are protected by the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms. In the unlikely event that the Quebec government’s proposal became law, it would likely be ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
Nevertheless, even if this measure is unlikely to come into effect, I believe that it is incumbent on all federal political leaders to speak out against extremism and to lead public opinion on matters of freedom and individual rights. Federal political parties cannot be neutral when the freedoms of Canadians are attacked. The silence of Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair on this issue is deafening.
*The author is Liberal Member of Parliament for Markham-Unionville and the Liberal spokesperson for immigration, multiculturalism and seniors.
For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Office of the Hon. John McCallum, P.C., M.P.