Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Muddy Waters

It's official: candidates and parties are getting worse. Leaving aside the upcoming federal elections, for the moment, I shall focus on the ever-appealing matter of the provincial ballot which is, as is well-known, due to occur on March 26th, 2007 anno domini. As of this moment, I do not know who to vote for - and I am, by a large margin, not alone.

For the past four years the PLQ has treated its office like a dictatorship rather than a democratically elected government; opposition to policy, public petition and union dissent have done nothing to alter any policy the party had its collective will set on ramming down our throats. This is not to say that those policies were altogether damaging - some were and some were not - but rather that they were implemented against the will of the electorate. Because of this betrayal of public confidence, Charest's merry band of tyrants cannot be allowed to regain their office (although the polls show that they likely will).

That, however, is the rub. The conundrum this leaves Québecois with is nothing short of the complete and total failure of democracy. There are only two options left and neither is any good:

1. André Boisclair's Parti Québecois is hell-bent as ever on tearing Québec from the comfortable, coddling arms of a Canadian Federation which refuses to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe it should say no to the whiny province now and again, no matter what the cost. The fervour they've demonstrated in this pursuit time and again has led to a fearful electorate - not because they particularly oppose sovereignty, but rather because they oppose fanaticism.

Understand that when I say fanaticism, FLQ terrorists with bomb-belts and poutine-breath (although that may not be far behind) are not what I mean; the type of fanaticism I have in mind is less violent, though it is quite unpleasant. Its chief weapon is dishonesty and it assumes that the ends justify all means. The most recent example of this is a simple change of wording in the party platform: the word referendum, too loaded with negative connotations by nearly thirty years of bitter cultural conflict, has been dropped in exchange for the less volatile "public consultation." In its simplest interpretation this is a meaningless change - it's really the same political process and, in Shakespeare's words, "What is in a name?" The ramifications, politically, could not be more immense. Quebec's soft nationalists read the news and were offended, as they have every right to be - the Parti Québecois was taking them for fools!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know; it's really just the same old story, but it illustrates the problem with the party about as well as any example I can think of: the party leadership is so single-minded in their pursuit of this ultimately disastrous goal that they will attempt to manipulate every little perceived chink in our armour and they do it badly. In short, the problem isn't that they try to manipulate us - that much is expected - but that they are so lacking in competence that they manage to alienate, in their very first attempt at such political manipulation under their doped-up leader, the very voters they need for any "political consultation" to go through.

It is slightly disturbing.

2. Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec are completely untested in political office and are so far right that any bill they propose can only be read with peripheral vision. If they were voted into minority office (which is the only office the people of Québec would ever give the ADQ), they might actually do a fair job at running the province, but their political stance makes them unappealing to most Québecois and Montrealers, myself included.

Dumont is not entirely against the idea of sovereignty, which brings him down a notch in my books (not a very big one, he's not fervent about it and has bigger fish to fry), but it is his party's lack of experience in government and his lack of experience as a leader which most scare me. Running this province is an enormous task, demanding a lot from any man and party taking the reins; goose-stepping the minefield of what to say and when alone would send politicians from anywhere else in the "democratic" world running scared - Québecois are a... Fickle bunch, to say the least, and anything that might, in the smallest way, be interpreted as a slight against their province, their language or their "culture" can immediately turn yesterday's hero into today's pariah and I do not believe that the ADQ has the experience required to maintain a successful government in that sort of environment.

And so the citizen's duty is made difficult not by turmoil with other citizens but by the very mediocrity of those who would represent him; his choice is limited to another term of "liberal" fascism, a group of incompetent separatists led by an admitted cocaine addict or an untested, rookie party with no record and no real voter appeal beyond the "not as bad as the other guys" factor.

I cannot say how this election will turn out - I will not attempt a prediction - but I have decided, while writing this collumn, how I will vote: in the hopes that mine will be one in a pile large enough to tip the scales toward a liberal minority, I will vote ADQ.

Unreasonably Unaccommodating

The phenomenon of "reasonable accomadation" has hit this city hard and fast; there are very few people who haven't had a conversation on the topic already and even fewer who've found anyone who thinks exactly as they do on the matter (I am intentionally leaving out the Rest of Quebec and the Rest of Canada). All over the city, now, people are bending over backwards for one of two reasons:

1) They're kowtowing to the religious pressures and suddenly becoming "reasonably accommodating," hoping to avoid public ire and basically attempting to please everyone. These are the gyms with frosted windows, preventing pour religious folk from the "offensive" experience of being exposed to what a woman's body actually looks like.

2) They're vehemently opposing the trend of accomodation, not with reasoned arguments or serious complaint, but rather with intolerance and invective. There have been songs and long diatribes written down about the subject; drawn-out, uneducated bar-room arguments which accomplish nothing beyond the exacerbation of hatreds which have been subsiding up until this point have simply been far too numerous.

Neither of these is a viable solution, of course; we'll never be able to make everyone happy and the onus isn't on us to ensure every individual person's happiness. It is also evident that we cannot succumb to the quickly encroaching xenophobia (which has already claimed at least one small town in the province around our fair city), in the current global political climate and in the face of such realities as the declining birth rate in the western world it would be patently foolish to turn away immigrants who could greatly add to our economic stability and allow us to maintain our way of life.

While the two options currently being pursued by the population of Montreal may not be the correct ones, there is an option which has remained unexplored: secularism.

We in this country pride ourselves on multiculturalism and secular legislature and yet there is truth in the observation that the prevalent worldview in our government is plainly judeo-christian; there is, of course, nothing we can do about the views of the politicians themselves, but the laws we can change. We can expunge our country of preferential treatment for any and all religion. This work must begin with our calendar.

We already allow people of various religious sects to take their respective religious holidays off of work and school, it is not a leap of logic to extend this to christianity aswell; Christmas should be an optional holiday, along with easter and whatever else people take off for religious reasons. If we are to have equality, it must be universal equality.

Andrew, a friend of mine, offered a very sensible solution to the problem of religious holidays which encompasses what I have written above; legislators should choose the religion with the highest number of religious holidays and apply that number accross the board, calling them "personal holidays" and leaving it at that - everyone who works would be allowed to use them as they pleased and it would not negatively impact their already existing vacation packages as it does not significantly alter the number of days which an employee works.

It is reasonable and is not patronizingly "accomodating," it simply creates a level playing field.

More significant than any change of the calendar would be to remove the meaningless religious discourse from our laws; the Charter of Rights is one example, stating in the opening sentence that it derives its legitimacy from the supremacy of God: this is meaningless. The Charter derives its legitimacy from us, the people of the country whose democratic support makes it possible (Jean-Jacques Rousseau dealt with this over two-hundred years ago, get with the times).

Now, some may ask themselves why secularism is a better answer than reasonable accommodation (I hope no one questions the wisdom of secularism over blind intolerance) and the answer is simply a matter of equality; under a system which allows preferential treatment of anyone holding a "sacred" text, atheists lose out. In a truly equal society, everyone is truly equal; this is impossible when religious groups can impose their will on the world around them and atheists, who have no holy texts (or any reason to have any) are left high and dry, forced to accommodate people whose ridiculous tenets diminish the freedom of everyone around them for the sole purpose of increasing their own personal comfort.

Accommodation, beyond being a reminder of the Christian predominance in this country, is a politically correct and highly inefficient way of curtailing the freedom of private citizens by appealing to their desire to "live in harmony;" it is a heinous idea which, in attempting to unify and pacify the population is ultimately divisive. We do not need it, on any level.

Not even on those levels which we've taken as granted for a great many years now.