In the spirit of this season of weighing virtue and vice, Canadian Jewish voters are busily appraising our country’s political parties ahead of the Oct. 21 election. (Given the glaring conflict on the Hebrew calendar, many may have already sealed their judgments at early polls.) There are any number of issues to consider – the economy, immigration, foreign policy and the environment, to name just a few – but one issue that isn’t on the slate is Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law.
That’s not for lack of trying. Political advocacy groups and grassroots organizations alike have spent the campaign calling on parties to speak out against Bill 21 – and to promise to fight it in court if elected into power. Alas, none have answered the call. As Janice Arnold reports in this week’s cover story, federal leaders appear to have taken Quebec Premier François Legault seriously on his warning not to interfere in the matter (Justin Trudeau being the only one among the group to leave the door to a challenge slightly ajar).
You can understand why no one has bucked the trend. Bill 21 is popular in Quebec, with polls showing 70 per cent approval among Quebecers (it is most supported among francophones). And there are votes up for grabs in the province amid a tight national race. No one wants to rock the boat.
But beyond votes, there’s no question Bill 21 is a most delicate matter, and that defeating it requires a delicate strategy, one that speaks plainly about its effect on communities without destabilizing relationships in Quebec. The campaign against Bill 21 has to be nuanced, well thought out and carefully constructed. Aside from the ongoing court challenges, it might be too much to expect such intricate plans to be completely drawn up in a short period of time, and in the middle of a federal campaign.
In other words, when it comes to campaigning against Bill 21, it’s best to start looking beyond Oct. 21, 2019. Perhaps in four years’ time it may be a legitimate ballot box issue.
If there is a silver lining, it should be that the Canadian Jewish community has a solid track record when it comes to advocating for our positions and our freedoms. To accomplish this task requires exhaustive effort across a vast network. The Jewish community works with every political party, at every political level, not to mention in the social, academic and cultural spheres, to ensure that power players and the public alike are aware of our concerns. We also collaborate with other like-minded communities on matters of shared interest.
And the results are generally clear and positive. Take Israel as an example: there are certainly differences between the Trudeau Liberals and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives on the file – most notably the latter’s promise to recognize Jerusalem as the country’s capital and to defund UNRWA if elected (though Scheer last week also announced that securing a seat for Canada on the United Nations Security Council was not his priority, a goal the Liberals are still apparently pursuing and one that could be helpful to the Jewish state). And yet, there is no question that both parties – the two major federal parties – maintain a fundamental consensus on support for Israel. This is a remarkable achievement, especially considering how Israel has become a treacherous wedge issue in the United States and United Kingdom. Can you imagine if we had to deal with that?
So we might not get to have a say about Bill 21 this election cycle. But as the campaign draws to its conclusion, let it mark the beginning of Canadian Jewry’s next push to make our voices heard.