Commission Looks Into Quebec’s Future

Commission looks into Quebec's future

Jeff Heinrich,
The Gazette
Published: Monday, October 15

ST. HYACINTHE – What will Quebec look like 100 years from now?

That's one of the questions being asked today at the Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings into “reasonable accommodations” of religious and ethnic minorities.

And co-chairman Gerard Bouchard has an optimistic answer.

“In 100 years, immigrants and people in the welcoming society will have had all sorts of interaction and exchange, they will have built a new society together, and there will no longer be this opposition of 'us' and 'them',” Bouchard said during questioning of a presenter this morning in St. Hyacinthe.

Immigrants and “the descendants of Europeans” will get along by then, said Bouchard, a Chicoutimi historian and sociologist. “If interculturalism means anything, there will be exchanges (and) all these cultures will evolve together.”

But several presenters disagreed.

“What saddens me for the future is not that in 100 or 200 years Quebec will no longer be white – no, what saddens me is that we won't have met the challenge of our ancestors to impregnate this New World with the soul of French thought,” said Jean Dube, a young computer specialist.

“This essence is different from what the Anglo-Saxons carry inside them, or the Chinese or people of Cote d'Ivoire, or all other nations, and that's a good thing. It's diversity of types that creates the wealth of the world. … Why should it be any different for Quebec,” Dube asked.

“Why should the Quebec of tomorrow be only a collection of ethnicities without any common project or any cohesion? Why should this French soul, which was able to discover the vast expanses of this continent, suffer by living in the shadow of the rest of Canada?”

“What will happen in 100 years? I don't know,” said another presenter, Guy Durand, who argued for the preservation of Quebec's Catholic identity. “But it's normal that our generation wants to build and leave as our legacy a Quebec that keeps its identity.”

The commission is going ahead despite a declaration last week by Premier Jean Charest that he intends to amend the Quebec Human Rights Charter to give more weight to the equality of the sexes over freedom of religion, even before the commission – which he created – files its report him at the end of March.

At the commission's lunch break today, Bouchard and Taylor walked away from reporters who asked their reaction to Charest's declaration. Commission spokesman Sylvain Leclerc said Charest hadn't taken the wind out of the commission's sails – on the contrary, the number of people registering for the coming hearings continues to rise, he said.

St. Hyacinthe, a city of 56,000 people on the Yamaska River an hour's drive northeast of Montreal, was the commissioners' ninth stop on a 17-city tour that began Sept. 10 and ends Nov. 30. They stay in the Monteregie region Tuesday and Wednesday for hearings in Longueuil, on Montreal's South Shore.

About 1.3 million people live in the Monteregie, which is 87 per cent Roman Catholic and less than one per cent Muslim or Jewish. The region's 75,000 immigrants come from all over the world; the largest group comes from France, followed by the U.S., Great Britain, Haiti and China. Newer immigrants include Afghans, Romanians and Algerians.

Unusually, St. Hyacinthe is represented in the House of Commons by a Vietnamese-born woman, Bloc Quebecois MP Eve-Mary Thai Thi Lac, who was elected in a by-election Sept. 17. Canada's first-ever Vietnamese Canadian MP, she was adopted at age 2 by a Quebec farming family.