Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leaked excerpts of Bouchard-Taylor report already stirring the Quebecois pot

Quebec's nationalist politicians (see here and here) are up in arms about leaked excerpts - appearing in the anglophone Montreal Gazette - from the soon to be released Bouchard-Taylor report on "reasonable accommodation" of immigrant minorities in Quebec; I will be waiting the full report before judging whether Dag was right that we could expect nothing more than the usual political correctitude from the two notable scholars, one a brother of the nationalist hero, Lucien Bouchard, the other a famous academic philosopher who has nonetheless found a place for religion and some kinds of nationalism (including the Quebecois) in his world view. I recall a line from a Charles Taylor article of some years ago, which went like this: nationalism is like whiskey; taken diluted it makes you mellow; taken straight it knocks you out. Dag, the eternal punster, will no doubt make the connection to Liberian warlords.

Previously, I thought it was possible, given their personal histories, that these two would come up with something at least a little challenging to multiculti orthodoxies. On first glance, it appears they try to be all things to all people, while emphasizing a critique of provincial Quebecois "insecurities", and a now tiresome rhetoric of embracing diversity, although as the means to integrate people into shared fundamental values:
In Quebec, they say, everyone should feel welcome and the majority should no longer feel under threat by newcomers.

"We think it is possible to re-concile Quebecers - franco-phones and others - with practices of harmonization, once it has been shown that: a) these practices respect our society's fundamental values, notably the equality of men and women.

b) they don't aim to create privileges but, rather, equality that is well understood and that respects everyone's rights.

c) they encourage integration and not marginalization.

d) they're framed by guidelines and protected against spiralling out of control.

e) they're founded on the principle of reciprocity.

f) they don't play the game of fundamentalism.

g) they don't compromise the gains of the Quiet Revolution." The final draft is dated March 19, two weeks before the commission announced on its website that the writing of the report was finished and that, after adding a series of recommendations, proofreading the document and translating it into English, it would be sent to the printers.

The official report is now in the hands of Premier Jean Charest, who is to present it to cabinet on Wednesday. After a budget-style "lock-up" behind closed doors for journalists Friday morning, the commissioners will hold a news conference to discuss their findings.

Broken down into half-a-dozen parts, the voluminous report has more than a dozen chapters and almost as many annexes consisting of a series of research reports, independently produced under special order by the commission.

Their subjects relate to the accommodation debate, including media coverage, ethnic ghettos and French-language training for immigrants.

In their report, Bouchard and Taylor - but mainly Bouchard, who did the bulk of the writing, insiders say- argue that the responsibility for open-mindedness and desire for change lie mainly with one people: the French Canadians themselves.

"It's principally from this milieu that the crisis arose," the commissioners write, adding that many French Canadians "have a strong feeling of insecurity for the survival of their culture." They fear losing their "values, language, tradition and customs" and of eventually "disappearing" entirely as a French-speaking minority in North America.

Self-doubt and "the fear of the Other" - are "the two great hindrances from the French-Canadian past," the commissioners write.
People should get used to the idea that "Quebec is made up of diverse ethnic groups, each of which, as is its right and in its own way, cultivates its own memory" - in other words, none is more valuable than the other.

The two commissioners - who each collected a salary of $380,000 for their work - also: Declare themselves in favour of more funding for community groups that try to bring cultures together.

Argue against race-based projects that segregate people from mainstream society (such as a proposed all-black school).

Lament the "wasted careers" of foreign professionals who can't find work here because their credentials aren't recognized.

Deplore that only three per cent of Quebec public-service jobs are held by immigrants, "one of the worst situations in North America." Blame the Quebec media for being generally "very 'old-stock,' very 'white' (and) by consequence, they broadcast an often biased image of a (multicultural) reality that a lot of people don't know well enough." But Bouchard and Taylor also - surprisingly - come to the defence of Hérouxville, which made headlines around the world.

"In a very awkward and excessive way, the Hérouxville text expressed a tension, an ambivalence many French-Canadian Quebecers have," the commissioners write.

Finally, they make a plea for better understanding of Quebec's Muslims, "who only make up two per cent of the Quebec population, about 130,000 people," who are "massively francophone and highly educated," who are "among the least devoutly religious of all immigrants," and who are "the least ghettoized" geographically in Montreal.

"The way to overcome Islamophobia is to get closer to Muslims, not to run away from them," the commissioners state.

"Mistrust breeds mistrust. Just like fear, it winds up feeding on itself."
Print Story - canada.com network

The commissioners have also apparently provided answers to commonly held sentiments among the so-called "pure laine" (pure wool, old stock) Quebecers, such as:
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

"Once again, metaphors can be misleading. In this case, it's assumed that the immigrant should get rid of his culture in order to adopt that of the host culture. This is an affirmation of the rule of assimilation, something that (is) no longer admissible, because it goes against the principles of pluralism."
But this kind of response will rightly fuel the anger of Quebec's nationalist politicians. It is one thing to allow that a tolerance of newcomers' remembering where they come from is necessary and welcome in a free and open society; it is quite another to suggest that a free and democratic society can exist without a shared and privileged understanding of what is sacred to our common public life, such that anybody can be educated to take the lead in defending and renewing the covenant that guarantees our shared freedom. To defer endlessly to pluralism is only to encourage rule by an imperialistic elite that puts everyone in their place. On the other hand, democracy requires some common cultural assumptions, values, and language. Ultimately it is not really to elitists like Taylor and Bouchard that Quebecers must look for their future; it is only in the potential ability of each and every Quebecer to stand up and make him or herself representative of the common good, as it needs to be realized and represented according to the unpredictable exigencies of unfolding events and crises, that a free and open future can be won.

No doubt we will have more thoughts on this story as the full report is released and digested. But so far, it seems Taylor and Bouchard are opting out of providing a compelling vision of how a common and democratic public life in Quebec can be guaranteed.


Vancouver visitor said...

Finally, they make a plea for better understanding of Quebec's Muslims, "who only make up two per cent of the Quebec population, about 130,000 people," who are "massively francophone and highly educated," who are "among the least devoutly religious of all immigrants," and who are "the least ghettoized" geographically in Montreal.

There is a comment on this over at Mesopotamia West.

truepeers said...

Well, I don't know how they think they know what is being preached in Montreal's mosques. My guess is that comment is based on someone's word and a lot of wishful thinking.

Some of us remember the Hezbollah parade two summers ago, and that was a large crowd as I recall. Of course some attending were our own federal and provincial politicians.

Steve said...

The leaked report seems to indicate that the elitist arrogance that has made ordinary and sincere English speaking Canadians afraid to stand up for their identity and sense of common future, is now going to be tried on the Franco-Quebecois. I hope the Quebecois push back hard and I hope that English Canada does not allow the multicult, largely poorly informed, yet arrogant elite to hold their noses and say "we are are so much more enlightened in English Canada." These people do not speak for English Canada, nor do Bouchard and Taylor speak for Quebecois. It is time we stood up and said so.

Vive le Quebec, vive le Canada in two languages and two cultures, (plus the natives) and everyone else is welcome to blend in and make it better.

Dag said...

I would guess that when the Quebecois hear this in joual in the beaneries and cafes rather than seeing it from the Queen's Printer, multi-volume tomes in terms of L'Académie française, the people are going to be furious that they've been dumped on as peasants and racist rabble.

This "report" seems to me to be full of the contemptuous and condescending scorn for the people one comes to expect from the likes of Charles Johnson and Jaco Pastorius for those not hip to American leftist trends in the modern world. Quebecers, ill-behaved neo-Nazi xenophobic racists according to trendies in California, don't have to care about the high ideals of those who would be the coolest of rock stars if only. Real people in real places are going to object to this kind of report, I would guess.

People like Johnson and Pastorius won''t get it, being too busy, like Bouchard and Taylor, preening and congratulating themselves on their sophistication, a few Rogerian cliches tossed to the proles to keep them happy, to notice the people might not give a good god-damn what these fools think the rest should think. It looks like trouble to me. The elitists will find themselves bewildered, asking why all these shoeless types are jeering at them, and wondering where is this cart going, anyway?

Vancouver visitor said...

Dag, there is also Epaminondas.

Dag said...

Epa is a decent fellow, as is Pasorius, and i hate dumping on them, but they are so far from reality that it becomes a serious problem for all of us when they carry on as they are, that being due to the fact that they have no understanding of things beyond the borders of their own limited ideologies. I know a bit about the personal lives of both, and from that i understand why they think they're doing the right thing in slagging all others in this struggle as racists and no-Nazis, Epa sometimes going right off the rails. He and Pastorius force me to persist in demanding that we address the immediate nature of "What is to be Done," and by that I mean what is theory and what is contingent. Peers as always has brilliant arguments, but in light of Epa and Pastorius and Johnson we must know exactly where we stand and where we do not.

It won't be the end of history to decide this is what we are for and this against, but a clear guideline of we are for this, not for that, and the issue is clearly settled to the general satisfaction that we are either neo-Nazis as Epa claims, or we are something he and the others just don't have a clue about. I'll return to this, no doubt, for a long time to come. It's too serious to try to ignore.

truepeers said...

It's one good thing to know where you stand, and another to be able to think on the spot. We should learn to love what is never the same thing twice. It's really the failure to do that that leads to the kinds of dogmatic positions Dag is criticizing.

Dag said...

The division we face now stems from an inability to think at all on the part of some who have no convenient and settled understanding of the nature of reality. look, for example, at the Catholic Church. Catholics know they aren't Protestants. Why? Because of a long history of thinking and weeding out, among other things, heresies that cause endless damage to right thinking. Some of our positions are either axiomatic or they aren't; and if our own don't know that freedom to speak is axiomatic for us, then we find ourselves stuck with some of our own thinking there are among us neo-Nazis, and no one can convince them on the basis of reality that they are wrong if one must forever, as you once mentioned, reinvent the wheel each time we have a discussion. Either we agree and that's an end of it, on certain fundamental axioms or we find ourselves splitting into idiot factions and the rest of us. Yes, we can do quite nicely without the idiot factions, but they take with them a lot of uniformed people as well who would be open to reason and logic otherwise if it were presentable.

Vancouver visitor said...

Both of you know my background, so I am telling you from experience that the sooner Canada does away with multiculturalism and reduces immigration to a trickle, the better. The French-English divide is already an intractable political problem that can only be managed (and it all comes down to demographics). It's delusional to compound the problem by actively importing large numbers from every country under the sun and inheriting their undesirable traits in the process. Trouble starts, always, when the majority find themselves in danger of becoming the minority in their own land and losing absolute political power. Think of Fiji and Malaysia at the national level. At the local level, there are the no-go zones in European countries and certain parts of the U.S. and Canada.

When the full report is available, consider pulling together a working group to do a hyper-critical analysis of it and think up realistic worst-case scenarios.

truepeers said...


As you suggest, I think a lot of our discussion is a confusion of two different problems: 1)the question of how people capable of thinking should think about the problems we face; 2) the question of how conclusions and norms should be communicated to those who don't or won't think or who are only interested in pragmatic alliances with us and not sharing in our thinking processes.

THis confusion is no doubt in large part my fault. Still any attempt to construct a programme must respect our needs - those of us who think - to remain flexible in face of new events, and to remein flexible in building alliances. THe simpler, more minimal, the programmatic statements, the better.


I'm afraid I missed the post where you discussed your background.

Anyway, immigration seems to me a numbers game, a quesion of tipping points. On the one hand, immigration, new blood can strengthen a nation. But there is always a tipping point between which an immigrant is more likely to assimilate to the new culture because he is a distinct minority, or where one will stay with one's group who have immigrated in sufficient numbers. When the latter happens our ability to have a self-ruling democracy is compromised and we get into elite brokerage politics between groups. THat's what we need to avoid, at least among the second generation, without making every immigrant/second generation feel like he is a target of our resentment. Those who want to share in some common public values with us, in order to guarantee our shared democratic freedoms, should be treated with an open hand and mind.

truepeers said...


I'm sorry; Dag just told me who you are. Pretty clueless on my part, all this time...

Vancouver visitor said...

Truepeers, no offence taken.

Here's a depressingly familiar example at Up Pompeii, and a perfect illustration, of the sort of thing that raises the temperature and creates bitterness: erasure of local history and collective memory, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood. The Quebecois had better put their foot down and not cede any ground if they don't want that to happen.