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Opinion

Thank you, Charter of Values

Published on 24/09/2013

A separatist Quebec premier has managed to unite Canadians – doctors, nurses, child care workers, university staff, politicians, journalists, academics, and citizens, to name a few – something that has eluded every other political leader for at least half a century.

Without intending to, we just had a national conversation in which Canadians from all walks of life joined.

What makes this remarkable is that Canadians, from East to West, seem to agree in their overwhelming rejection of the divisive policies of Premier Pauline Marois by speaking out against the proposed ban on religious symbols worn by public employees.

A new and somewhat cheeky recruitment ad by an Oshawa hospital pairs the message “we don’t care what’s on your head, we care what’s in it” with a smiling woman in a hijab and lab coat. There was Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney: “A child is no less Canadian because she or he wears a kippa, turban, cross, or hijab to school.” There was Montreal City Councillor Lionel Perez: “This doesn’t fit into Quebec values of openness and tolerance.” There was Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau: “Quebeckers, like all Canadians, have helped to build a society that is the envy of the world because we have succeeded in making diversity an immeasurable asset.” And there was Premier Christy Clark, actively courting people who may consider leaving the province of Quebec to the myriad and “diverse” pleasures of B.C.

Canadians are not typically in agreement with each other. In fact, if there is a distinguishing feature about our discourse, it is its diversity. We don’t share views on the monarchy, we don’t agree on the minimum wage floor, we don’t want the same industries to thrive, we argue about climate change, we don’t value one approach to crime and punishment, and we’re sharply divided between Nickelback and Metric. But we clearly want a society that is more inclusive than the militantly secular approach of the Quebec Premier.

Canadians have not always gotten it right on this issue. There are periods in our history when we did care where people came from. We treated them differently based on their cultural values and religious beliefs. We actively discriminated against people of different races. And only in our recent past have we made men and women equal before the law. But we learned from this history, and even though we don’t have it perfectly right today, we know that it is unwise, undesirable and in conflict with our values to impose the rules proposed by the Quebec government.

Canadians today value inclusion. An inclusive society is deeper than a society of immigration, or the elastically-defined one of multiculturalism. Inclusive societies are those without cultural ceilings, especially in the workplace. They are built on the theory that diversity creates strong and vibrant economies, because good ideas are made better when they are shaped by different minds. As Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi said in response to the Charter, “cities only work when you attract people from around the world to want to live, work, invest, and raise families there.”

So for once we seem to have agreement. What a good, if somewhat unintended, outcome for a highly divisive issue.

Summary

The militantly secular approach proposed by the Quebec government has, unintentionally, brought people together in their agreement about the value of inclusion.

Topic(s)

Civic engagement, Human rights