Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Knife wielding politics in Quebec

The Quebec independence movement was born in the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s. In the name of liberal and secular values, it sought to secure for Quebec all powers necessary to exercise its will as a modern open country. The case for association with the rest of Canada (and fraternity with the US) was based on common principles. Traditional Canadian federalism was said to be unworkable, not the tool of aliens.
Today, separatist parties—the provincial Parti Quebecois and the federal Bloc Quebecois—have a more modest and less attractive message. One caucus with an eye to collecting further annual pension points and the other with an eye to winning the next Quebec election, they’ve decided soften their message by merely appealing to chauvinism.
The big idea of independence is to stand down for the little idea of suspecting the neighbours.
This week, National Assembly security officials refused to allow four invited representatives of the Sikh community to carry the kirpan to a hearing at the Quebec legislature. Both parties backed up the security officials and took the issue further.
Bloc Quebecois whip Claude De Bellefeuille called on the Canadian parliament to consider a similar restriction—applying, conceivably, to sitting Sikh MP’s, as well as visitors. In Quebec City, Parti Quebecois critic on secularism Louise Beaudoin gleefully broadened the issue:   
Religious freedom exists but there are other values. For instance, multiculturalism is not a Quebec value. It may be a Canadian one but it is not a Quebec one,” she said.”

Practical security concerns about the kirpan—a ceremonial dagger that Canadian courts long ago determined can, with guidelines, be worn in public places, but not carried on to airplanes—are not what has got Quebec’s opposition politicians excited. They want to brand multiculturalism as a foreign and predatory concept.

Multiculturalism, in law and practice has never trumped public safety or individual rights in our secular societies.  The values Ms. Beaudoin claims to champion are not Quebec values per se.  Equality for women, for instance, was not a Quebec gift to Canada. And it is not threaten by Canada’s “multicultural” or America’s “melting-pot” tolerance for minority religions.

Standing up for Quebec’s culture against multicultural Canada is both unnecessary and hypocritical. Cultural sovereignty—a cornerstone of the independence movement—has hardly dissuaded Quebecers from seeking and receiving generous federal support for Quebec’s cultural endeavors. 

Last fall, Statistics Canada reported on the provincial distribution of direct federal spending for culture in 2007-08. Link:
Two provinces were above the $113 per person average, while the other eight were below: 
  • Quebec ($167 per capita);
  • Prince Edward Island ($158 per capita);
  • Nova Scotia ($109 per capita);
  • Ontario ($106 per capita);
  • Newfoundland and Labrador ($88 per capita);
  • New Brunswick ($74 per capita);
  • Manitoba ($68 per capita);
  • Alberta ($56 per capita);
  • Saskatchewan ($50 per capita); and
  • British Columbia ($48 per capita). 
 Multiculturalism has many meanings. But in Canada, at least, it hasn’t been cheap.

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