Dr. Dawg

The NDP leadership race: dirty dancing

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The NDP leadership vote is upon us. “None of the above” is not an option. I re-joined the party to vote for Niki Ashton, although (I must here confess) it’s more a tactical boost that I’m looking at, a hoped-for rising of a significant number of NDPers, new and old (or both) prepared to support a left turn for a party that has grown more and more indistinguishable from the Liberal party it hopes one day to replace.

Those of us who are tired of “a little more of this, a little less of that” politics will support Ashton—or what she stands for, at least. She represents, however imperfectly, a politics of difference, and she dares to dream.

But a disqualifying issue has arisen.

Quebec is poised to pass a secularization Bill—or so it has been misleadingly characterized. It’s nothing of the kind, of course. To honour the principle of secularization, in the provision and the consumption of provincial and municipal public services, Bill 62 outlaws the niqab.

That’s it. That’s all it does.

This highly selective legislation, aimed at a tiny handful of women—perhaps as few as 24—will come into law under the Christian cross that decorates the wall above the Speaker’s chair in the Quebec National Assembly. It is only the latest iteration of the nasty and sometimes deadly current of xenophobia that has coursed through Quebec nationalist politics, from the days of Lionel Groulx through Hérouxville and on down to the present day.

Quebec is hardly alone in its popular racism—none of Canada is immune to that virus. But Quebec is distinct in attempting to legislate it. And we should make no mistake about the current initiative: while Quebec’s history of aggressive secularism since the Quiet Revolution is well established, the single-mindedness of this legislation cannot be explained away by rote reference to laïcité alone. How denying a woman the right to board a bus in Montreal advances that principle one whit is anything but obvious, at least to me. At best, the Quebec government is pandering to the dark side of its electorate. At worst, it has joined it.

So where are the NDP leadership hopefuls on this?

If the NDP has a future, Quebec is key to it, and the candidates all know it. Progressives, to one degree or another, accede to Quebec’s right of self-determination. But what happens when that principle collides with other rights? Especially when “self-determination” is a diffuse and contentious concept, covering a multitude of scenarios, whereas the rights of women are much clearer, better established in law and society, and more concrete? The temptation for candidates, unfortunately, is to look for rhetorical escape doors.

Ashton, disappointingly, has hedged. Her attempts to clarify her initial stance sound like waffling. Oh, “sound,” hell—I’m not about to fall into that same trap myself. She has not handled the matter well, and it’s hard to find excuses for her.

Guy Caron has been clearer, but not in a good way. While he “personally” believes that women should wear whatever they choose to wear, and that the state has no business legislating their wardrobe, he has stated that the Quebec government has the right to decide for itself. Charlie Angus has a similar position, if “position” in the singular is the correct term.

Only Jagmeet Singh, whose lack of policy specifics has been rightly criticized, has come out clearly and unequivocally against Bill 62. Perhaps he has less to lose: his candidacy has apparently sown panic in the ranks of the NDP’s Quebec wing, and one Quebec NDP MP is considering a provincial run for the Parti Québécois if the man with the turban prevails. Singh has responded with his trademark grace, but it may well not suffice to keep that wing intact, let alone attract a sufficient number of Quebec voters even to become the Official Opposition once again. Kudos to him, in any case. No dancing—at least on this occasion!

I prefer policy to leadership politics, so my vote for Ashton was cast today regardless. But this has been an unsettling spectacle, to put it mildly, and I, for one, have lost my enthusiasm for the race, such as it was. Given what’s been going on south of the border, the least I should be able to expect is moral clarity on racism and sexism from the one major party in Canada that allegedly speaks for the poor, the marginalized, and working people. With the exception of Jagmeet Singh, I’m not hearing it. And, in 2017, that’s deeply distressing.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on September 18, 2017 1:47 PM.

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