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Monday, December 22, 2014

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Quebec Jewish students weigh in on election

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From left, students Zack Goldig, Meagan Reinish, Denise Felsztyn, and Jeremy Elbaz pose at Hillel House.

MONTREAL — One will be casting her ballot for the first time.

Another is determined to stay in Quebec even if it separates from Canada.

But for four Jewish student voters 11 days before a pivotal provincial election, there was still a lot more consensus than conflict during a CJN interview at the venerable Hillel House on Stanley Street.

Not surprisingly, Denise Felsztein, 18, Zack Goldig, 24, Meagan Reinish, 22, and Jeremy Elbaz, 22 were all pro-federalist and intend to vote that way on April 7.

But they also sensed that there’s a lot more at stake than usual in this election.

All live with their families in safe Liberal ridings.

The students cringed at the idea of a referendum on sovereignty and, like many Quebec voters, complained that the election campaign hasn’t focused on the issues that really count: jobs, the economy, health care and tuition fees.

The students were also in agreement in characterizing the proposed secular values charter as chilling – even scary – in its potential ramifications for religious minorities.

It’s racist and illegal, they said, and panders to intolerance by exploiting anti-Muslim and anti-religious minority sentiment among the Franco-Québécois population, with the worst-case scenario being a Parti-Québécois majority eventually passing the charter – Bill 60 – into law.

If that were to happen, all but Elbaz said they would have to consider making their lives and careers elsewhere.

“I would definitely go,” said Goldig, a law student at the Université de Montréal, while Reinish, a social work student at McGill University, said she would also consider leaving since there’s “so much racism” in the charter.

While Felsztein, a commerce student at Dawson College and a first-time voter, expressed the wish to stay in Quebec, she was undecided about what she would do.

But not Elbaz, a Concordia University political science student who said he would stay no matter what and “fight for my rights here.”

Elbaz said the reaction is “split” when people learn he would stay if Quebec separated, “but I don’t want to be perceived as running away from it,” he said.

“Why would I want to? I’m an integrated Quebecer.”

Tellingly, on the day of the interview – March 26 – there were more reasons for the students to feel encouraged than at the start of the election campaign – at least according to the polls released that day.

They were also grateful to Quebecor head Pierre Karl Péladeau for entering the race and turning what looked like a possible Parti Québécois majority into a possible Liberal majority, all because he had focused on holding another sovereignty referendum in his acceptance speech.

According to the polls, that’s something a large majority of Quebecers don’t want.

News of the PQ’s troubles came as heartening not only to the students, but also to the larger Jewish community, even though Quebec voters are known to be fickle and the tide could swing again by election day.

Elbaz and Reinish noted that the charter appeared to be in line with the policy in France to establish a strict secular approach to state-society relations, but they said it was untenable nonetheless.

Reinish said it would have been much more acceptable for the government to establish “religious accommodation” principles using the guidelines recommended by the Bouchard-Taylor commission, whose report was largely ignored.

If the values charter eventually passes, she said, it might only be a matter of time before it’s also adopted by the private sector and affect not only public workers in regard to banning the wearing of religious articles, but everyone.

Like other voters, the students wished that they had a pro-federalist mainstream party to vote for.

This being the first election Felsztyn is voting in, she’s paying closer attention than previously, but said she has always been aware of Quebec politics.

Elbaz, who is voting for the second time in 18 months, said he been following politics more over the last few years.

Politics always seemed to interest Reinish, who has volunteered for the campaign of Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard as well as politically within the Jewish community.

Goldig, for his part, said he didn’t realize until recently how political he was.

All but Goldig had the opportunity to watch the first election debate, and all seemed most impressed by the forthrightness and articulateness of Québec solidaire leader Françoise David.

“I wish she was a federalist,” Elbaz said.

 

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