In Defence of Herouxville

Jonathan Kay, National Post, October 30, 2007

Nativism is supposed to be a right-wing creed. So why is Quebec, the most socially liberal province in the country, the only place where Canadians are candidly discussing how far we should go to “accommodate” immigrants? Why are Canadian cartoonists putting KKK costumes on the hotheads of Herouxville instead of, say, Calgary or Red Deer? And why is it the PQ—not some cowboy-hat party out on the Prairies—that’s proposing a two-tier citizenship system?

It’s not because Quebec is swinging right. It’s because mono-culturalism is swinging left. Having decisively vanquished traditional Christians in the culture wars, feminists, gay activists and other progressives are no longer willing to risk their winnings by pledging multicultural solidarity with traditional Muslims, Hasidic Jews and other socially conservative immigrant groups.

This is a new phenomenon in Canada, but it’s been going on for years in Europe. The old face of nativism used to be Jean-Marie Le Pen, a right-wing Gaullist and old-school bigot who complains crankily about Jews and Blacks. Le Pen is still around. (His National Front party got 10% of the vote in this year’s French presidential election.) But today’s young voters are drawn more to those cast in the mold of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.

When Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002, he was described in the Western media as a “right-wing” politician because of his scathing remarks about Muslims. But the label never fit: Fortuyn was a lusty, openly gay populist who championed euthanasia, liberal drug policies and same-sex marriage. He opposed traditional Muslim culture precisely because it conflicted with the Netherlands’ any-thing-goes ethos.

In other words, muscular monoculturalism is no longer the purview of the right. Having been liberated from the odour of racism, it’s becoming a mainstream ideology, even a fashionable one, on the left.

With his infamous 1995 comments about “money and the ethnic vote,” Jacques Parizeau came off as a sort of Quebecois Le Pen (as do many of today’s separatists, which is why the PQ’s two-tier citizenship gambit will ultimately backfire). Mario Dumont and Herouxville’s councillors, on the other hand, sound more like followers of Fortuyn. In this regard, I would urge all those outraged Canadian pundits who are taking Herouxville as a byword for bigotry to actually read the town’s 14-page submission to Quebec’s commission on reasonable accommodation, in which the authors approvingly cite Turkey’s militantly secularist founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; celebrate Quebec’s rejection of the Catholic “theocracy” of the Duplessis era; champion the rights of women and gays; and openly mock Christian fundamentalism (“Recently, the National Assembly allowed the opening of retail stores on Sundays. [God] accommodated us once again, sparing Hell to the faithful.”)

What these people are doing is claiming Quebec in the name of state-of-the-art European-style secular liberalism. The idea that “Herouxville is old Quebec, old Canada”—which appeared in a Globe and Mail editorial last week—is not only wrong: It is the exact opposite of the truth.

Left-wing political trends aside, there are other reasons to have expected that Quebec would be the first part of Canada to decisively challenge multiculturalism, a doctrine that tends to thrive in wealthy nations beset by weak identities and postcolonial guilt. Compared to anglo-Canada, Quebec has a relatively strong sense of collective self. And for obvious historical reasons, Quebecers are more inclined to see themselves as history’s victims rather than exploiters.

That’s why multiculturalism has been a tough sell in Quebec from the get go. The doctrine became official Canadian government policy largely because Pierre Trudeau was looking to downplay the unique status of French culture by pretending it was just one of many filaments in a rich national tapestry. Even before the word burka entered the popular parlance, many Quebecers rightly saw it as a scam.

But what starts in Quebec won’t end here. The debate will spread, and we should be glad of that. For all the rhetorical stock Canadians have put in multiculturalism over the years, the fact remains that it is fundamentally incoherent: How do you intellectually defend a doctrine that preaches “tolerance” toward imported cultures that, themselves, are fundamentally intolerant toward women, gays, heretics and infidels?

Giggle all you like at the bumpkins of Herouxville. At least, they’re smart enough to know this question can’t be answered. Maybe when the rest of us anglos get over our own guilty Western hangups, we’ll come to the same realization.

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