Mulcair Wades Into The Accommodation Debate

Mulcair wades into the accommodation debate

The Canadian Press
Updated Thu. Dec. 13 2007 6:01 PM ET

MONTREAL — The reaction of some of Quebec's political leaders to anxieties about immigration has smacked of dishonesty and gutlessness, says the NDP lone's MP from the province.

Appearing Thursday before a government commission on the reasonable accommodation of immigrants, Thomas Mulcair made thinly veiled attacks against what he described as the opportunism of Quebec's opposition parties as well as the Bloc Quebecois.

“Quebec has always been a welcoming society, a model in the world,'' Mulcair said. “There are people who are playing with the sentiments of certain sectors of the population, putting fuel on a fire that doesn't need any.''

The NDP is among the last groups to present a brief before the commission wraps up on Friday.

Their position, which prescribes a multicultural solution to the question of accommodating minorities, encapsulates one side of a debate that has been rehashed incessantly in recent months.

“Living in society requires accommodation every day from every one of us, that's part of the definition of living in society,'' Mulcair said.

“People from all over the world have come to Montreal and Quebec and lived together for centuries and I'll let the Parti Quebecois and the Bloc Quebecois explain why they're stirring that pot.''

Earlier in the week, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe did much to define the other extreme when he declared that “multiculturalism as a model of integration doesn't work for Quebec.''

“Immigration cultures and beliefs must merge with Quebec's culture and beliefs if the latter is to survive,'' Duceppe said in presenting his party's position before the commission.

Political parties, both federal and provincial, have been given a chance during the final week of hearings to present their own positions to the commission.

Both the federal Conservatives and Stephane Dion's Liberals opted not to take part. But the Action democratique du Quebec was perhaps the more conspicuous absence.

ADQ Leader Mario Dumont made much hay out of the initial wave of anxiety over accommodations, which included incidents of men being banned from pre-natal classes and a gym's windows being frosted at the request of an Orthodox synagogue.

Many attributed the ADQ's rapid jump in popularity in the last election to Dumont's eagerness to stoke francophone insecurities. Since then though he has stayed mum on the issue.

“He's singularly lacking in political courage,'' Mulcair said. “He just doesn't have the guts because he's got nothing to say.''

Quebec's political parties have struggled to navigate the touchy subject, trying to balance ballot-box opportunism with more nuanced proposals.

Premier Jean Charest, for example, has been promising to amend Quebec's charter of rights to give gender equality priority over religious freedom.

But when the amendment was finally tabled on Wednesday, it simply stated that gender equality should be considered on par with other fundamental rights, including freedom of religion.

At the same time, the party's brief to the commission, presented Monday, calls on immigrants to sign a commitment to vaguely-defined “Quebec values.''

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is to present her party's brief to the commission on Friday. The document has already drawn criticism for failing to deal significantly with her proposed ban on immigrants running for office who aren't proficient in French.

Mulcair accused Marois of refusing to discuss the real implication of her proposal.

“Rather than having Quebec's proud history of openness and democracy, we're going to have civil servants determining whether you can be elected and not people who are voting,'' he said. “That's the scandal.''

Commission co-chairs Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor are to deliver a final report on March 31.