With the election of the CAQ, and its business-daddy leader François Legault at a record-high seat majority, it’s normal to wonder if Quebec, like many countries around the world (look at Italy and the previous governments of the US and Brazil for example) is seeing a rise in populist flavour of intolerance in its politics. After all, this is the party that banned some civil servants from wearing things that could be considered religious symbols, with Bill 21. This was an obviously discriminatory law, which was always going to affect muslim women most severely. So why did Quebeckers hit the polls with a 66 percent turnout to re-elect this racist government? Are Quebeckers themselves racist? And how does this very local election fit in with the recent protests in Iran against mandatory hijab laws? I’m only qualified to give my own opinion on these matters, but I see a need for control that is reflected in people’s governments.
In December of 2021, over two years after the passing of Bill 21, Fatemeh Anvari was removed from her position as a classroom teacher for wearing a hijab. This happened despite protests from her teachers’ union. The english school board her school is a part of shortly enjoyed an exemption for purposes of fostering diversity, protect under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, before the government appealed the exemption. The students in Fatemeh’s class showed their support by tying green ribbons (Fatemeh’s favourite colour) to the school fence. And yet, in the riding of Gatineau, where this all took place, a CAQ MP got re-elected to his seat this year. It’s infuriating, and disheartening, and there are real people whose lives are affected by these laws.
Then, there are the CAQ’s attempts to reduce the very number of immigrants to Quebec, which have raised outcry from immigration advocacy groups and business groups alike. It started in Fall 2019, when Jolin-Barette, the then-minister of immigration, simply tried to cut the number of programs. After many revisions, his successor, Girault, came out with additional work experience requirements that will effectively force many immigrants out of the path to immigration. There are, however, exemptions for orderlies and people working in the AI industry. So, to recap, other than immigration advocates, immigrants have to rely on the needs of businesses and the very public embarrassment of CAQ immigration ministers in order to make their case for why they deserve the place they were promised here in Quebec. You would think that these mishaps are the work of an inexperienced party, but it seems to me that it is a very intentional ploy to attract and hold on to an important minority of voters, who have successfully coloured most of Quebec in that pale-blue shade of xenophobia that is the CAQ. Why change something that is working so well for them?
And not too long ago, the CAQ passed Bill 96, which complicates the lives of immigrants who don’t speak French by forcing them to learn the language within 6 months or face a refusal of public services in any language but French, including health services. This is not a mistake. This is a very intentional attempt by a hateful or indifferent party to foster a lasting voter base by stoking fears about immigrants, and continuing to force immigrants out of its system. Jean Boulet, the last immigration minister before the elections, was criticized for voicing exactly what the CAQ wants the people of Quebec to believe about immigration. He called immigrants in Montreal lazy, by implying that 80% of them did not work and relied on welfare. Other than the sheer audacity of such a claim, and the fact that the former minister had access to data that would obviously and easily contradict his statement, there is the question of why he would make these statements right before an election, possibly alienating a large number of immigrants. Maybe he believed that there was a large voter base of predominantly white Quebeckers in areas outside of Montreal who would not be bothered, but rather emboldened by his comments. The election results would have proved that right.
But why do some Quebeckers fear immigrants? Sure, there are competing values at stake. Some Quebeckers may feel that this land belongs to them, even though they are immigrants to these lands as well. The indigenous folk who live here have more of a claim to these lands than anyone, and you would not know that from living here. The xenophobia is what it has always been: an attempt by people with power and privilege to hold on to that power and privilege, even if it hurts them and everyone else around them.
Fundamentally, if you believe that clustering your “culture” in a vacuum of like-minded people is what helps to preserve it, then you will possibly suffocate it, and stop it from growing. Because conversation with other cultures and viewpoints can certainly change you, but it can’t and shouldn’t destroy you. The only thing that could happen is that you may stop seeing your own viewpoint as superior, and that is certainly a threat to people who see themselves as superior. And I would wager that, in times of uncertainty, fear makes people do stupid things, like hold on to their privilege at any cost, and refuse to build the solidarity that makes us all resilient in the face of change. So, fuck you Mr Legault, and the entirety of your party, for making us all less resilient and more divided. It’s not all your fault. You’re exploiting the very real fears of people who look and think like you. Only, you’re a millionaire businessman in search of more power for longer at whatever cost, so you are accountable. So is the electoral system that allows the doubts and fears of 40% of Quebeckers to hold the other 60% hostage for another 4 years. And I stress that this is fear talking. Fear of losing a privileged space. Fear of not having anything to replace it with. But at a time of environmental uncertainty, during a pandemic, and nearing possible economic change, solidarity is the only thing that can help us. It’s the only thing that ever has. Change is unavoidable, but how we face that change is all our own!