MONTREAL — Young Jews will seriously consider leaving Quebec if the Parti Québecois (PQ) forms a majority in the next provincial election and the proposed charter of values becomes law, predicts one of the country’s best-known demographers.
“It would be naive to think it’s not a serious risk,” said Jack Jedwab, 55, director of the Association for Canadian Studies.
Jedwab, who served as director of the Quebec branch of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress from 1988 to 1998, told The CJN that while the province’s Jewish community remains vital and influential, it’s “in a state of serious, serious flux.”
But “if this charter thing passes, it could be devastating.”
Some 30,000 Jews are believed to have left the province since the PQ formed its first provincial government in 1976. The community’s population now numbers about 90,000.
Jedwab said a PQ majority government combined with the passage of Bill 60 would be “a worst-case scenario.”
For the Jewish community, the proposed secular charter “is affecting the sense of who we are in society, that we are not equal to our de vieille souche [old stock] co-citizens,” said Jedwab, who is regularly asked to comment on minority issues by French- and English-language news outlets.
“It’s coming across as an attack on our identity.”
Jedwab said he’s been impressed with the stance taken by the publicly funded Jewish General Hospital, which pledged that it would not enforce a charter rule barring workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.
But, like many others, he had no idea how the provincial government would react to the hospital’s civil disobedience.
“It’s a major question,” he said.
Jedwab said the charter issue has been a challenge for the Jewish community’s official advocacy body – the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
He said despite CIJA’s very forceful and articulate position against the charter, it has no option but to keep lines of communications open with the government, despite the latter repeatedly “drawing a line in the sand on the issue.”
Jedwab also believes that French-language news media have tended not to approach CIJA for comment on the issue, because its name contains the word “Israel,” which they find confusing.
The government is so intent on achieving a majority and getting the charter passed into law by pandering to the province’s most base and xenophobic elements, he said, that it’s “ready to sacrifice its relationship with the Jewish community,” which almost never supports the PQ anyway.
It’s clear from the current legislative hearings on Bill 60 that the party is cynically striving to exploit those xenophobic elements and distract from real issues such as the economy, Jedwab said.
One of the most troubling aspects of the charter debate for Jedwab is that religious rights are no longer being seen as fundamental or immutable, but as subject to legal manipulation.
“It is one of the most worrisome dimensions,” he said.
Jedwab is quite familiar with these issues. He was at Congress during the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, when the “No” side barely won and then-PQ premier Jacques Parizeau uttered his infamous comments blaming the “money and ethnic” vote for the razor-thin result.
He was also at CJC when the late Quebecor tabloid publisher Pierre Péladeau referred to Quebec’s Jewish community as taking up “too much space,” and when Mordecai Richler suggested that anti-Semitism continued to play a role in Quebec national life.
But Jedwab seems more concerned now than previously, saying that the charter is “one of the ugliest initiatives I’ve seen. I’m very, very saddened by the turn of events.”