Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 2, 2007
Pea soup angst boils over in Que. election
'Minority accommodation' pushes cultural traditions almost to the breaking point
On the Other Hand
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
The dramatic Quebec election result may in the end have boiled down to a pot of pea soup.
While many media pundits were shaking their heads Monday evening over the surge of Mario Dumont's right-wing Action Democratique (ADQ) at the polls, I wasn't.
The media-entertainment-political-bureaucratic establishment largely exists in a sort of closed loop ghetto, where most of the people they work and socialize with are ideological liberals and leftists. In such a milieu, it's easy to misapprehend that the conventional wisdom circulating reflects the mainstream, and this is of course reflected in the tone and slant of news coverage and commentary.
Indeed, it becomes to some degree self-fulfilling prophecy, as some media consumers are gulled by what often amounts to thinly-veiled advocacy journalism into imagining that the liberal-left bias presented really is mainstream, or at least to feel that the more conservative outlook they and many of the people they interact with personally is marginalized.
Thus, last winter when the village of H‚rouxville, Quebec, posted a statement of cultural "standards" to inform new and prospective immigrants of what the community considers acceptable and unacceptable social norms of behaviour, the municipal council was superciliously dismissed by establishment commentarati as a bunch of intolerant rural hicks and bigots.
The village of Saint-Roch-de-M‚kinac soon followed H‚rouxville's lead, and four other Quebec towns announced they probably would as well.
Other recent indicators that ordinary Quebecers' frustration with what is euphemistically referred to as "minority accommodation" was reaching a breaking point included a Montreal YMCA's decision to remove frosted glass it had installed in its exercise room windows last fall to shield the eyes of young Orthodox Jews from spandex-clad pulchritude after a synagogue across the alley complained.
Meanwhile a Montreal community health centre announced it would bar males from prenatal classes in order to make Muslim, Sikh or Hindu women feel more comfortable, and a Montreal police newsletter suggested female officers let male colleagues deal with Hasidic Jews.
A Montreal police officer faced a disciplinary tribunal after posting a poem on an Internet joke site suggesting that immigrants unhappy with Quebec's traditional culture should "head for the airport," and a Montreal teachers' union complained that the local school board had granted three extra statutory holidays for teachers who are observant Jews and Muslims, while Quebec's automobile insurance board adopted a policy of accommodating Hasidic Jews who insist that their driving test be administered by a male.
The flaring controversies over "reasonable accommodation"of minorities in ultra-urban Montreal shoots holes in the left-lib establishment's cherished theory that this sort of reaction represents a rural-urban split.
One of Quebec's most emblematic cultural traditions is the spring maple syrup run and "sugaring off at the cabane … sucre or "sugar shack" with feasts of beans, pea soup larded with pounds of pork and ham, pancakes and of course lots of fresh maple syrup.
It's fair to say "French Canadian Pea Soup" with ham is Quebec's most symbolically prominent culinary delight. So a last straw of sorts was when a sugar shack south of Montreal removed pork from its pea soup to accommodate the dietary requirements of Islamic customers. "Pea soup without ham," read a headline in Le Journal.
Adding to the affront to Quebec tradition, another sugar shack shut down entertainment for 10 minutes to allow about 20 Muslims to pray on the dance floor. Backlash was swift and intense, and I suggest that's the point where Mario Dumont and the ADQ won the provincial election, which they did, notwithstanding finishing second in seat count.
DUMONT REAPS DISCORD
It was almost anticlimactic when a week later, Quebec election authorities reversed its earlier decision to allow Muslim women to cast their vote wearing a hijab or face-veil. Watching it all unfold, I became convinced that while still unlikely, it was no longer beyond the bounds of possibility that Dumont could actually win the election, and in the end he came mighty close, taking 41 seats to Jean Charest's Liberals' 48 and skunking the leftist Parti Quebecois which finished third with 38 seats.
The seismic shift in Quebec politics gives Prime Minister Stephen Harper a credible pretext for calling an early election now that the Conservative budget seems assured of passage with, ironically (or perhaps not), the support of the Bloc Quebecois whose prospects are now in disarray.