Liberal MNA David Birnbaum chided Quebec’s new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government for legislating by opinion polls, in its determination to ban certain public servants from wearing religious symbols.
In his inaugural address in the national assembly from the opposition benches, Birnbaum said that, “Our collective success is not measured by each morning’s polls, but the quality and capacity of all of us to live together, to love each other for our diversity, a uniquely and proudly Québécois character.”
Birnbaum was apparently alluding to a poll conducted last month, which showed widespread support for the CAQ’s plan to pass a law that would prohibit representatives of “state authority” – namely judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and teachers – from wearing kippot, hijabs, turbans, crosses and the like while on the job.
More than 70 per cent of those surveyed said they either completely agree or somewhat agree with the CAQ’s plan for judges, police and prosecutors, while a slightly lower percentage said they were in favour of the ban for prison guards and teachers.
The poll was conducted for Radio-Canada by the CROP polling firm.
Premier François Legault has said he will introduce legislation on religious symbols in the spring, and that this most recent poll confirms his belief that the majority of Quebecers are on side.
Birnbaum, who was re-elected to a second term in the riding of D’Arcy McGee in October, emphasized that he remains the only MNA to represent a riding with a strong Jewish plurality and one of the few with an anglophone majority.
“The unique and compelling presence of one of the world’s largest populations of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors within the riding will forever contribute to my profound conviction that political activity and influence be exercised with care, respect, selflessness and compassion,” he said in an address that contained a significant amount of English.
Birnbaum expressed disappointment that Legault had not said more about the rights of anglophones and other minority communities in his address at the opening of the national assembly.
“The promotion and influence of our common language, French, are assured by generosity of spirit, by inclusivity and by recognition that English-speaking Quebecers and those of the cultural communities are allies and not adversaries in this essential and continuous mission,” Birnbaum stated.
He urged the government to reconsider its intention to abolish elected school boards, to which anglophones, he suggested, have a constitutional right.
Birnbaum noted that D’Arcy McGee, which was expanded since the 2014 election well into the Snowdon-Côte des Neiges area, is now also the home of many people with roots in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Our collective success is not measured by each morning’s polls, but the quality and capacity of all of us to live together.
– David Birnbaum
Birnbaum also spoke up for another major segment of D’Arcy McGee’s population: seniors. Their interests and health care generally will be among his priorities, he said.
Specifically, he pointed to the need for more support for caregivers and improved care in CHSLDs, Quebec’s publicly funded long-term care institutions.
He also pledged to press the government to ensure that Phase 4 of the Jewish General Hospital’s renovations go ahead.
In May, then-health minister Gaétan Barette confirmed that his government had budgeted for the continued development of Pavilion K, the 10-storey critical-care wing that opened in 2016.
Birnbaum is now the Liberal’s indigenous affairs critic. He intends to engage in “nation-to-nation dialogue” with the province’s First Nations and Inuit on “enormous challenges” that he feels Legault all but ignored in his inaugural speech.
Birnbaum tabled a motion stating that the national assembly “severely blames the CAQ government and premier for the lack of a humanist vision on the future of government relations with the First Nations and Inuit with whom we share the Quebec territory.”
It was largely a symbolic gesture, as the CAQ has a majority.
Birnbaum introduced an uncharacteristically personal note when he recalled his late parents, Ruth and Moe Birnbaum, who he thinks would be proud of him today.
“I lost my dad almost a half century ago, just before my 13th birthday. But his wisdom, his sense of justice, his wonderful ability to connect and rejoice in people – regardless of their standing, their intellect or their influence – guide me to this day, and every day,” he said.
His mother, who died seven years ago, “despite her battles with illnesses, mental and physical, left me with her love and her uncanny ability to seek out and destroy pretense and pomposity wherever it reared.”