Canada

EDITORIAL: The question you can’t ask in Canada

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A final note about the 2021 federal election and the pearl-clutching nature of political discussion in Canada today.

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It says a lot that the most talked about moment in the leaders’ debate since Brian Mulroney nailed John Turner in 1984 for not rescinding Pierre Trudeau’s patronage appointments, had nothing to do with anything the leaders said.

Instead, it was the controversy over a question asked by debate moderator Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, to BQ leader Yves-Francois Blanchet about Quebec’s controversial language and secularism laws.

The essence of their exchange was this:

Kurl: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism. Yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones, and allophones. For those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.”

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Blanchet: “The question seems to imply the answer you want. Those laws are not about discrimination, they are about the values of Quebec … we are saying that those are legitimate laws that apply on Quebec territory … which is again, by itself, for Quebec.”

So, asked and answered. Except in Canada.

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The post debate reaction — the criticism being that by even asking the question Kurl was falsely suggesting Quebecers are racists — was a sight to behold.

Everybody was upset. Blanchet was upset. Quebec Premier François Legault was upset. Pundits were upset. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh were upset — albeit belatedly since they didn’t raise any concerns when the exchange occurred.

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Never mind that a Quebec judge had previously ruled Bill 21 is discriminatory, cruel and dehumanizing to Muslim women and others, but constitutionally valid due to the province’s use of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause.

Recently in the Globe and Mail Kurl wrote a column sensibly refusing to apologize.

But the most interesting part was Kurl explaining that, “every question was reviewed by the debate’s editorial team, which included representatives from all the networks that organized and produced it — CBC, CTV, Global and APTN. More than a dozen senior journalists and news executives had seen and vetted the questions I asked …”

Knowing that makes the spectacle of everyone running for the hills after the question was asked downright hilarious.

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