And that's a good thing
Published: Friday, October 31, 2008
So it becomes official: The tiny town of Herouxville has won the great argument over “reasonable accommodation” of immigrants to Quebec.
In 2007, Herouxville's municipal council passed an official code of “life standards” designed to advise new Quebecers (though there were none in town yet) of the province's culture norms. We do not, the code said, practise polygamy, separation by caste, sex discrimination or segregation or honour killing. Although it is a secular society, Quebec does observe traditional Christian holidays and has buildings and streets named after great Christian figures. Boys and girls play together in our parks and public facilities, and your doctor or lawyer or MP might be a woman. Get used to it.
Herouxville's code is rambling, deliberately provocative and in parts just plain weird. But what mostly made it controversial — in this culturally relativistic age — was the core idea that Quebecers had the right to consciously impose any cultural expectations at all upon immigrants. And that idea has now been taken up by the government of Quebec, which announced Wednesday that it will require newcomers to sign a declaration promising to participate in the “shared values” of the Quebecois people.
The province's neo-Herouxvillian document is simpler and much less objectionable than the original model — but it surely never would have been adopted in the first place if the little community hadn't thrown down the gauntlet. From now on, immigrants entering Quebec will have to indicate their understanding and agreement that Quebec is a pluralist, liberal-democratic society where French is the official language, the sexes are equal, church and state are separate and secular law takes precedence over religion, though everyone is free to observe his own faith.
If a sign of liberalism's lamentable journey from egalitarian origins to cheap identity politics were needed, one could find none better than the frantic race to object to this motherhood statement of what ought to be liberal fundamentals. The editorial board of the Montreal Gazette, for instance, complains that the declaration is unenforceable, and yet at the same time is “somehow repellent” in its explicitness and clarity and yet again is too “slippery” in its meaning to be of any good.
Elsewhere, we read of the declaration being denounced as a pre-election “political stunt”; this, of course, is what you call a very popular measure when you don't personally like it. Would it be much of a “stunt” if it weren't near-certain to win votes?
Other measures were announced along with the declaration: The province plans to expand French-language education for prospective immigrants, and language-training funding is also to be made available to Quebec employers who hire newcomers. Nobody described these expensive measures as “political stunts,” and some critics ignored them completely; only the culturally assertive, low-cost idea of advising immigrants how to integrate was singled out.
Perhaps most extraordinary was the quote from sociologist Victor Armony, in our own pages, to the effect that successful immigrants “don't need Quebec society to patronize them.” But as we see it, the far more patronizing slight comes from doctrinaire multiculturalism, which refuses to recognize the reality that immigrants are real people with real values — not human props in a feel-good ethnic fun fair — and that oftentimes those values are in conflict with Canada's, especially as regards women, gays and the place of religion in our society. Quebec's government, like Herouxville, at least pays immigrants the respect of recognizing the hard edges on their worldviews, even as it asks them to bend them as the price of integrating into their new homeland.
That's a fair price — one that millions of Canadian immigrants have paid since the birth of this country. We see nothing wrong with the Quebec government making this trade-off explicit. Indeed, we urge other governments to follow its example.