MONTREAL — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Quebec must be French “first and foremost” and that can be achieved without diminishing anglophone rights.
Speaking at an appearance at Le Mood, The Festival of Unexpected Jewish Learning, Arts and Culture, held Nov. 3, Trudeau said his point of view differs from that of his late father, who envisioned a bilingual Canada from coast to coast.
“Like my father, I believe in a bilingual Canada, but over the years, after living in Quebec and being an MP… I’ve come to understand… that in order for Canada to be bilingual, Quebec has to be French first and foremost, and that doesn’t mean taking away from many or any of the rights of English speakers,” he said.
Trudeau said there is a “mainstream culture” in Quebec that has to be protected and can’t be compared to the culture of English Canada, which he feels is too much under the sway of the United States.
Trudeau drew a standing-room only audience at the day-long event, and he received repeated applause and shouts of approval from the mainly young crowd. Afterward, he was besieged for photographs.
Standup comic Joey Elias, who interviewed Trudeau onstage, asked what he thought of the growing number of anglophones thinking of leaving the province, fed up with the political situation. “People are asking me all the time, ‘What are you still doing here?’’’ Elias said.
Trudeau slammed the Parti Québécois’ government’s proposed charter of Quebec values as “dangerous politics… with a tinge of Islamophobia.”
Elias said he calls it apartheid.
Much of the session was left for questions from the floor. Not one question about the Middle East was posed.
Trudeau said Premier Pauline Marois doesn’t represent the views of most Quebecers, or even all sovereignists.
“It’s very clear the charter was brought forward for one reason, and one reason only: to bring the conversation onto identity grounds, rather than the economy, which Marois is failing in.”
With the separatist movement faltering, the Parti Québécois is “desperate” and using Islamophobia to create “an us-and-them dynamic.”
He accused the government of exploiting “a lack of knowledge among far too many Quebecers, especially in small towns,” about minorities.
“It’s a call back to that old fear of the other… A crass attempt to bring out the worst in people.”
The real target is Islam, he believes, and the ban on kippot, turbans and crosses in the public service are “the chaff in that fight.”
The PQ is appealing to “the meaner, baser instincts all human being have. It’s natural – as cavemen our instinct was to close in and protect our tribe,” said Trudeau.
He predicted that the charter will fail and that Marois will lose the next election.
“The best way to protect [Quebec culture] is to celebrate and share it, not build up walls… If you build walls, you close yourself off and condemn yourself to disappearance.”
An elderly priest in the audience beckoned Trudeau over, placed a cross around his neck and said he prays that Trudeau will become prime minister.
Trudeau also accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of practising divisive, wedge politics, which has made Canadians more cynical about public life than ever before.
On the Senate crisis, Trudeau boasted that he “beat the crap out of” one of the Harper-appointed disgraced senators, referring to Patrick Brazeau.
While the Senate needs reform, Trudeau said Canadians have no appetite to go through 10 years or more of constitutional wrangling between the federal and provincial governments.
He blamed the situation on Harper’s choice of appointees (59 to date) and for allowing “a ruthless environment to flourish.”
The Senate does serve as a check and balance on the prime minister, especially the head of a majority government, who has “more power than any other leader in the world,” Trudeau believes.
Trudeau suggested that appointments by made on a less partisan basis. He has called on all Liberal senators to disclose their expenses on a quarterly basis.
Asked why he chose politics over show business like another famous prime ministerial son, Ben Mulroney, Trudeau replied: “I’m pretty, but I’m not that pretty.”
Being the son of Pierre Trudeau, “who cast a giant shadow,” has been tough all his life, he admitted. “I’ve been condemned just because I’m ‘the son of.’ It has given me a thick skin. I’m able to dismiss groundless attacks. But there’s the flip side: am I being told I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread because of who my father was?” he asked.
“Am I getting compliments because I worked my ass off to win the riding [Papineau in 2008], or because my father let them into the country 30 years ago?”
Elias concluded, “If you don’t vote for this party, you need to get your head examined. It’s so refreshing to here a politician who does not speak like a politician.”