Monday, September 9, 2013

Opposing the Quebec Charter of Values is NOT Quebec-bashing!

Quebec Preimier Pauline Marois

Nationalism is an infantile disease.  It is the measles of mankind.

- Albert Einstein

Not surprisingly, the Parti Quebecois government  is using its proposed Charter of Values to drive a wedge between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians.  Many anglophone Canadians, such as myself, oppose this proposed charter not because we are anti-Quebec but because of some very sound reasons. Unfortunately, ultra-nationalist Quebeccers and the PQ are doing everything in their power to use this issue to whip up unrest and resentment between anglophones and francophones.  It's a very clever ploy and they are taking full advantage of it.

To criticize a policy of the Quebec government is not to demean or defame the people of Quebec. Neither is it interfering in the affairs of Quebec.  As an Ontarian, I would certainly not feel offended if Quebeckers criticized a policy of the Ontario government.

So what is so wrong about the charter?  First and foremost, the Quebec Charter of Values goes against the spirit of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  All Canadians have a right to freedom of religion in this country.  That freedom is severely restricted if religious symbols and head coverings can not be worn while working in the public sector.

In his column in the August 31, 2013 issue of Maclean's magazine, Colby Cosh bemoans the lack of English language writers who have defended Pauline Marois's policy.  Cosh then sets about defending the policy himself.  He proclaims that it is "just plain goofy to argue that a state cannot devise rules for the dress, the conduct, or the speech of its workers, and particularly of those workers who have responsibilities for education or advice, as teachers, daycare workers and nurses do."

Cosh does agree with me in one respect.  He admits that the true purpose of putting forth the proposal of a Charter of Values is "to invite the kind of outrage that English Canadian opinion leaders and federalist sages in Quebec have hastened to display."  In this case, however, the outrage is warranted.  (By the way, I strongly object to the term "English Canadian" in reference to all anglophone Canadians.  The term should only be used to describe those of English descent. All others are English-speaking Canadians).

Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry recently predicted that one day Canada will "deeply regret" embracing its policy of multiculturalism and proclaimed that three is no room for it in Quebec.  He also castigated the English language press for its coverage of the Parti Quebecois' minorities charter.  “Quebec is multiethnic, but not multicultural,” Landry proclaimed in an interview on Global TV's The West Block with Tom Clark.

Bernard Landry

Well, given the Parti Quebecois' record, that's not very reassuring.  Remember the night when former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the pro-sovereignty camp's narrow loss in the October 1995 referendum on "money and the ethnic vote."  The PQ was unmasked when a bitter Parizeau stepped onto the stage at the Montreal Convention Centre and spoke those words.  Its narrow-mindedness and xenophobia was clearly revealed.  Parizeau resigned as premier the next day and his chief aide, Jean-Francois Lisée, later admitted to the CBC that he realized they were in trouble when he heard Parizeau use the French word "nous" ("we" or "us") to refer to native francophones only.

As for Bernard Landry, an August 28, 2013  letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette, did a very good job of attacking his argument against multiculturalism.  In his letter, Gerald Silverman of Côte-St-Luc, Quecbec, made the following comments.

If Mr. Bernard Landry wants to delude his fellow Quebecers who have never visited New York City or Chicago, about his vision of their values, he should really get his facts straight.
NYC has officers wearing kippahs and others who wear Sikh head coverings. Their municipal offices are full of U.S. citizens of all persuasions, including South Asian women whose makeup includes traditional markings on their foreheads.

Mr. Landry wants us to behave in the manner of several countries of the world who display a constant disrespect for diversity and traditions other than their own. Personally, I would rather align our behaviour with countries like the U.S., Britain, Israel, Germany and many others who are confident enough in their heritage and customs that they allow their citizens and even their employees in the public sector to respectfully keep to their heritage and religious obligations while performing their duties.

One of the most outspoken critics of the proposed Quebec charter has been Calgary's popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi.  Nenshi stated, "What we’re looking at under this charter of secularism is intolerance. Plain and simple. We’re not talking about government neutrality. We’re actually physically saying to some children that because of the faith that you and your family follow, there are some jobs that you’re not eligible for.”

Naheed Nenshi

Nenshi is exactly right.  The proposed Charter of Quebec Values, would create thousands of second class citizens in the province of Quebec.  Many religious groups would feel excluded from jobs in the public sector.  Immigrants choosing to live in Quebec would feel unwelcome and undervalued.  Enforcing this charter is going to be complicated.  How is it going to be policed and how much is it going to cost to police it?

For example, the charter seeks to ban public service employees from wearing "ostentatious" crosses or crucifixes.  Who is going to decide whether a cross is "ostentatious?"  Will someone measure it to see if exceeds a specific size?  Will it be weighed on a scale to determine how heavy it is?

The introduction of the Quebec Charter of Values would ensure that an Orthodox Jew, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a male Sikh in a turban would not be able to be able to work in the private sector or sit in the Quebec National Assembly.  It's a policy of exclusion, pure and simple.

The issue is not about Quebec-bashing.  It's about injustice.  As Nenshi put it, "“I do think we have to use whatever podiums we’ve been given, whatever voice we have, to speak out against injustice."  The young, dynamic municipal leader did not mince words.  He described the PQ's charter as "social suicide."

Bernard Landry claims that Quebec welcomes immigrants but wants them to integrate.  I too believe that immigrants should integrate but I also believe that they should not be required to hide their heritage and their religious faith.  The government of Quebec is really advocating a policy of assimilation, not integration. It's a policy that goes against Canada's reputation as an enlightened country.  This is a nation that opens its doors to law-abiding people of all background and all religions.  It is not a nation that closes doors.  This is a nation that has benefited immensely from the contribution of people of all faiths.

For the record, I love Quebec and the people of the province.  I strongly oppose a particular policy of the government of Quebec, a policy based on the politics of fear.  Quebecers deserve better than to be  manipulated for political purposes.  All Canadians deserve better than the politics of division.

- Joanne

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Day and the dignity of work

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

“No work is insignificant. All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the first Monday in September and it is Labour Day in Canada and the United States.  As Dr. King so eloquently pointed out, labour has dignity and it should be valued.  This is a day to reflect upon the significance of all workers, whether they be young or middle-aged, male or female, blue collar or white collar.  It is a time to consider how important work is to the health and welfare of our society.  If you have the day off today (not everyone does), enjoy yourself and relax.  You have earned your day of rest.

On this day, however, let us not forget the millions of unemployed around the world.  Readers, I implore you to think about those who earnestly seek work and cannot find it.  I especially urge you to think about those who have been laid off from a job after many years with same employer. They are not just numbers or names on a piece of paper.  The bean counters must be reminded that they are human beings with families and some of them find themselves unemployed at an older age.

Let us seek to provide employment for our youth.  They are our hope and our future and they need jobs with decent wages and decent pensions.  Canada, the United States and other developed countries are rich with resources and opportunities. Our leaders should place more emphasis on creating jobs than fighting deficits. Jobs  are the greater priority and jobs are needed now.  Of course, taxpayer's money should be spent responsibly.  Spending it to create jobs, however, is not wasteful.  It is necessary and beneficial.

A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune's inequality exhibits under this sun.

- Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish philosopher and writer
From Chartism [1839]

Thomas Carlyle

Let us also remember today the shameful exploitation of workers in sweat shops all over the world for the lowest wages imaginable and in the worst conditions imaginable.  Let us not forget the children who are forced to work long hours in hazardous surroundings.

Here are some grim facts from UNICEF, the International Labour Organization and CRIN (The Child Rights International Network.
  • One in six children 5 to 14 years old — about 16 percent of all children in this age group — is involved in child labour in developing countries.
  • In the least developed countries, 30 percent of all children are engaged in child labour.
  • Worldwide, 126 million children work in hazardous conditions, often enduring beatings, humiliation and sexual violence by their employers.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children — both boys and girls — are trafficked each year into exploitative work in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict or commercial sex work.
  • The highest proportion of child labourers is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 26 percent of children (49 million) are involved in work.

Here are some other points to ponder this Labour Day.

Labour is prior to and independent of capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labour, and could never have existed if labour had not first existed.  Labour is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.  

- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States
State of the Union Address, December 3, 1861

Abraham Lincoln

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?  In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rocks? . . .

Where, the evening that the wall of China finished
Did the masons go?

- Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), German playwright
From Questions From A Worker Who Reads [1935]

Bertolt Brecht
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W0409-300 / Kolbe, Jörg / CC-BY-SA

Work is love made visible.

- Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), Syrian writer and artist  

From The Prophet [1923]

Kahlil Gibran

The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.

- Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975), British historian

Arnold Toynbee


- Joanne