No room for multiculturalism in Quebec, former premier says

OTTAWA – There is no room for multiculturalism in Quebec, a former Parti Quebecois premier says — and keeping it out will ensure the province preserves its distinct identity.

“Quebec is multiethnic, but not multicultural,” Bernard Landry said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

Under prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Canada moved to preserve and enhance multiculturalism throughout the 1970s. It was officially recognized in 1982 in the Charter.

That move, Landry said, was imposed on Quebec, which continues to reject the idea to this day.

“You like multiculturalism, go on,” Landry said. “My provision is that within some years you will regret that attitude, but it’s your problem.”

Landry’s comments come one day before the current minority PQ government in Quebec is expected to begin unveiling elements of what it’s calling a values charter.

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The broad strokes of the plan have already leaked out; it is expected to forbid Quebecers from wearing religious symbols such as turbans, crucifixes, hijabs or kippahs while at work in the public service, at hospitals and in schools.

Landry said the harsh criticism the proposed charter has sparked is premature and ill-informed.

“Let’s wait to have the details,” he said. “I have been witness since months, maybe years of Quebec bashing, and it makes me sad, especially for the Canadian people. So much misinformation about Quebec is sort of a tragedy.”

Landry doesn’t blame the general public for perpetuating Quebec’s reputation as a xenophobic society. Rather, he says it’s the media that is being “negligent and, in some cases, contemptuous.”

But municipal, provincial and federal leaders across Canada have also come out against the proposal.

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi called it an abrogation of Canadian values and ethics. Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said the charter would effectively raise a barrier increasing the under-representation of minorities in the Quebec civil service.  And federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau slammed the idea, saying it would damage Quebec’s reputation.

Trudeau even connected the proposed charter with segregation during a speech on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, though he later clarified that the parallel he was drawing was the fight to respect and accept all Canadians.

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Although both federal opposition leaders have spoken out, Landry saved his strongest words for Trudeau.

“I can’t believe he compared that to the slavery era in the south of the United States. Incredible,” he said. “I hope you won’t have that person as a prime minister.”