To put an end to ethnic voting

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To put an end to ethnic voting
December 2000

This is an unofficial translation of a December 2000 public letter by Salomon Cohen which was published in Le Devoir under the title of Pour en finir avec le vote ethnique.

On the impetus of the Michaud Affair, I was on several occasions personally hailed by the various information media, by my fellow-citizens in general and sovereignists ones in particular. Precisely, I have to date made at least four public interventions: one, at the radio of Radio-Canada, during the program Sans Frontières hosted by Michel Desautels, last December 19; a second one, by the means of a letter to the newspaper Le Devoir, published last December 21, of which I was one of the five sovereignist signatories member of cultural communities; a third one, in the form of an interview granted to journalist Alexandre Sirois of the newspaper La Presse, published in the edition of last December 23 and finally, a fourth one, the same day, in the form of an interview granted to the RDI network.

I thus make a point of reassuring those who like Mr Normand Breault regretted to never see "other members of the Jewish community coming in to moderate, and even less to contradict their spokesmen" and wondered "when, if there are any, will the dissidents make their opinions known" so that "the other Quebecers may realize that the Jewish community is not as monolithic as it appears to be." (Article published in Le Devoir, last December 27)

The Quebec of the future will not be built without the contribution of its various [minority] cultural groups. The project of building a country out of Quebec, which 60% of the French-speaking people dream of, deserves a greater opening among the other ethnic communities of Quebec. To have them take their full place in the development of this project, it is first necessary to make more room, within political caucuses, organizations and governmental institutions, to the sympathizers coming from cultural communities.

The main idea supporting my analysis is as follows: the future of Quebec depends primarily on three major components of Quebec society, taking into account their demographic weight, their economic importance and their political influence, that is to say the French majority, the English minority and the [other] cultural or ethnic communities, while retaining the contribution of the aboriginal nations.

It is probably true that Anglo-Quebecers find it very beneficial to consider themselves in Quebec as the worthy representatives of the majority and dominant group in Canada. In the same way, it is quite legitimate for the first generations of immigrants to loyally remain indebted to their host country, Canada, and to nourish their dream of belonging to a great North-American nation. It remains nonetheless that a good number of them recognize the power of the forces vives of French-speaking Quebec which tends unrelentingly towards the emancipation of its people and its autonomy, its sovereignty, its recognition and its participation in the concert of nations.

The current polemic confers (once again) to the Jewish community the role of scapegoat for the dissatisfactions of those who deplore the refusal of cultural communities to adhere to the project of the French majority. "But where are", they say, "the supporters of the sovereignist option among ethnic minorities? Where are their spokesmen? Why are their testimonies so diffuse that one hardly hears them and recognizes them?"

The answer is simple. They are for the most part at the margin of political movements, and when they fully take part in them, they belong to political associations and committees of multi-ethnic sympathizers deprived of the means of action and scorned by the greater ethnic organizations. They militate in the shade of the projectors pointed on both the tenors of the sovereignist cause and the ethnic representation [opposed to it].

When they agree to carry the sovereignist banner high up, they are confined to this role, during the elections, in "kamikaze ridings". Incapable to take up the insurmountable challenge to reach and rally their ethnic group to the sovereignist cause and to win in ridings already won by the other political formations, they are condemned to purge their sorrow in the purgatory following and impossible to circumvent electoral failure. Isolated from their cultural group, they face the mistrust of the majority group towards those who come from abroad, who come from those cultures considered entertaining when it is time for tourism, but how menacing when they are so very close to us day to day.

The bunch of new ethnic adherent to the cause, who followed these candidates in their electoral battle, are abandoned. These ones feel with disgust that all their efforts did not even allow for one their own to take a place of choice in the highest levels of power. Discouraged, they give up and deplore the lack of recognition vis-a-vis their difficult undertaking in following a path contrary to the dominant trend of their cultural group (which marginalizes them from the start) and the lack of consideration from the sovereignists.

The ultimate reverse is when they note with spite that in certain cases, the opponents to the sovereignist option, who openly expressed their opposition to them, are gratified with nominations under the pretext that they accurately represent their cultural group and with the false claim that this will result, as gratitude, in conversions to the other cause. For the ethnic sympathizers, it is what is called "to add insult to injury". It should not be a surprise if during times of crisis, one wonders where they are.

Deprived from access to economic levers for a long period of the history of Quebec, too many French speakers still consider, wrongfully, that in the absence of outlets in the private sector, more easily accessible according to them to ethnic groups, they must reserve parliamentary seats and jobs in the Quebec public administration to themselves. The apparent resistance to fully let "foreign" nationals within their ranks harms the real integration of ethnic groups and perpetuates the domination of the [current] leaders of cultural communities on their group.

In my opinion, as long as the French-speaking majority group will not give a choice place to those who, coming from abroad, want to integrate and take part in the construction of tomorrow's Quebec in symbiosis with the aspirations of the Quebec people, there will not be any real debate on the national question within ethnic communities, and I deplore it bitterly.

In fact, there is only the French majority which democratically debates the national question of Quebec. The English-speaking and the other ethnic communities not only do not tackle this question in a democratic way, but they do everything to choke up the debate which has shaken Quebec for at least the past forty years. From this point of view, we are still caught up with the issue of cultural communities that remain closed mainly because of the interests of certain leaders who seek to preserve their influence on fragile citizens. The current unanimity of these groups displays relents of dictatorship. What a shame!

The French majority can and must imperatively exert its leadership in order to favour the contribution of the English-speaking and other ethnic groups to defining the Quebec of tomorrow. It must encourage them to open the valves of the democratic debate on the national question of Quebec and by doing this, to release the treasures of their contribution.

The day when the debate on the national question of Quebec will be extended to the whole of Quebec society, approached by all the groups in all the languages spoken by cultural communities and with the French majority and the English minority, we will then be able to claim that there is a real democratic debate.

Imagine the contribution to Quebec's definition from each cultural and ethnic groups, the elevation, the colouring and the widening of the debate on the national question of Quebec. Historical moments are awaiting! What a benefit for Quebec! And, especially what a lesson of democracy for the rest of Canada and the whole world. I am convinced that in this respect, Quebec can become a democratic "headlight" for small countries.

Once the debate is well engaged, each citizen can express himself/herself and think freely, without restriction nor obstacle in his/her political march as a conscientized person. These are the essential conditions to the development of the true democratic face of the Quebec to be built and to the development of social solidarity. In a context that would be less favourable to the democratic debate, the polarization would risk the antagonizing of the various groups and to create a total dead end with regard to the construction of the Quebec of tomorrow.

Salomon Cohen,
Official PQ candidate in Outremont in 1994,
and president of the Commission des communautés culturelles of the Bloc québécois from 1998 to 2000.

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