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July 26, 2017

Exchanges between Jean-Marc Fournier and Robert Dutrisac – The numerous solidarities of Quebec-Canada relations


Exchanges partially published by the newspaper Le Devoir between Jean-Marc Fournier, Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie, and editorial writer Robert Dutrisac.

Mr. Dutrisac,

You are taking advantage of the NDP leadership race to offer a summary of Quebec-Canada relations as two solitudes, a way of depicting them that dates back to more than a half century ago. (Les deux solitudes du NPD,” Robert Dutrisac, July 13, 2017).

I would like to point out that the relationship is based on numerous solidarities and that it generates some as well.

Let’s begin with your suggestion to contrast the Canadian Charter of Rights with Quebec’s legislation.

The recent debates concerning the Parti Québécois’ charter, which proposed discrimination in employment based on attire, should not lead us to forget their foundation. In 1975, Quebec’s National Assembly enacted the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which protects religious freedom and the state’s neutrality associated with it.

This law was enacted seven years before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched in the Constitution in 1982. The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ) had to stress, in its comments published in October 2013, that our Quebec Charter prevents discrimination in employment based on attire and requires neutrality to allow for religious freedom rather than a kind of secularity that would restrict it.

If there’s a reassuring conclusion to come to from the unfortunate episode of the PQ’s supposed “charter of values,” which was rejected by Quebecers, it’s that our Quebec laws are still relevant. The fact that Canada is applying the same principles is yet more proof that “Quebecer” and “Canadian” are not opposites. They are not two monolithic groups, as you attempt to portray them.

Affirmation

With respect to our commercial relations, it’s difficult not to notice that there are also solidarities. Our trade with the rest of Canada is equal to the trade we do with the United States, a market that is ten times larger. In fact, we trade more with British Columbia than with China, and more with New Brunswick than with France.

There must also be commonalities.

On June 1st, the first Policy on Québec Affirmation and Canadian Relations was published. Entitled Quebecers, Our Way of Being Canadians,” it reflects the current majority’s identity: 75% of Quebecers report feeling a strong allegiance to Quebec and, at the same time, a belonging to Canada.

What you call “recanadianization” is perhaps an error in perspective.

Today and for the future, our government wishes to take on the societal aims of the vast majority of Quebecers. One part of this process consists in uniting all Quebecers within the Quebec nation, a nation that is inclusive of First Nations, members of the anglophone community, and newcomers that join the francophone majority in a spirit of interculturalism.

This project unites rather than divides. It brings people together rather than distancing them. That’s the meaning of our expression, Quebecers, Our Way of Being Canadians.

 

Jean-Marc Fournier
Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie

 

Response from the editorial writer: Robert Dutrisac

Mr. Fournier,

It’s clear that within the New Democratic Party there are currently two solitudes being expressed – that of Quebec and that of the rest of Canada – concerning the leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who openly displays his faith. Globe and Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski – and we absolutely did not consult with each other – comes to the same conclusion in a text published the same day as my editorial and uses the same expression. You want to believe that the current situation says nothing about Canada. I respect your point of view, although I can detect a common form of politician blindness. You see, we don’t do the same job.

You allude to the charter of values presented by a Parti Québécois government; however, I never spoke of it. Rather, I had in mind the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s recommendation that suggested the government write a white paper on secularity. “Quebecers are right to want the broad guidelines of our society, especially those resulting from our secular system, to be more clearly defined and stated,” wrote the commissioners. You are aware that the recommendation never left the paper.

Concerning the differences between the Canadian Charter of Rights, which focuses on individual rights, and the Quebec Charter, which takes collective rights more into account, I will leave the debate to experts. However, let’s remember that if the debates in the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that legal experts are divided on the issue of secularity.

Moreover, let us not forget that, being ruthless, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ), before deeming the charter of values discriminatory, had the same thing to say about Bill 94 – which was Liberal – on reasonable accommodation and, later, on Bill 62 on religious neutrality, presented by your government, which will likely be studied this fall.

Finally, I did not carelessly attempt to define Quebecers and Canadians as “opposite” or “monolithic” groups as you claim. Your letter in response to my editorial demonstrates clearly enough that in terms of political opinion, the monolithic nature you refer to does not exist. And it certainly does not exist in a pluralist society such as ours.


Robert Dutrisac
Editorial writer

 

Response from Jean-Marc Fournier that Le Devoir refused to publish

There are also solidarities.

Sir,

Your reaction to the comments I made in response to your editorial describing two solitudes in Quebec-Canada relations ascribes opinions to me that I never expressed.

I did not comment on Mr. Singh’s candidacy to the NDP leadership race. That was not the point of my commentary. Yet you give me an opinion on the issue, contest that opinion, and then accuse me of politician blindness because of that opinion.

You conclude your text by emphasizing the pluralist nature of our society. On this point we agree. It’s in fact mainly for this reason that I shared my comment with you on your editorial, where you voiced the opinion that Quebecers did not support a candidate showing his faith, whereas other Canadians did; hence your conclusion on two solitudes.

In my opinion, some Quebecers don’t like it, and others willingly accept that a candidate displays his faith, without promoting it, while committing to respect the state’s neutrality. Lise Ravary’s opinion published Saturday in the Quebecor newspapers demonstrates my point. We can certainly say the same of other Canadians. I feel it is necessary to tone down the Quebec-Canada opposition and the presence of two solitudes.

I am pleased to notice that you choose to allude to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which was not mentioned in your editorial, where it seemed to suggest that Quebec was subject to a rule of law not in line with its will. Concerning the importance given to collective rights within its charters, we could further discuss this issue while taking into account the Supreme Court’s interpretation in the Nadon case, where it goes as far as acknowledging the presence of distinct social values in Quebec.

I am trying to bring a few nuances to light concerning the somewhat hasty prejudice stating that Quebec-Canada relations are a constant depiction of two solitudes. I find it necessary to highlight the presence of solidarities within these relationships.

Jean-Marc Fournier
Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie