To put an end to ethnic voting

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This is an unofficial translation of a December 2000 article by Salomon Cohen entitled 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 not 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 cultural groups. The project to make of Quebec a country, which 60% of the French-speaking people dream of, deserves a greater opening among the other ethnic communities of Quebec. To make them take their full part 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 cultural or ethnic communities, while retaining the contribution of the nations autochtones.

It is probably true that the Anglo-Quebecers find it very beneficial to considered 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 of 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 minority? 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 in the margin of political movements, and when they fully take part in them, they belong to political associations and committees of multiethnic sympathizers deprived of the means of action and scorned by the greater ethnic organizations. They militate in the shade of the projectors pointed on the tenors of the sovereignist cause and the ethnic representation.

When they agree to carry the sovereignist banner high up, they are confined to this role of in "kamikaze ridings" during the elections. Incapable to take up the insurmountable challenge to reach rally their ethnic group to the soveregnist cause and to win in ridings already won by the other political formations, they are condemned to purge their sorrow in the purgatory following their 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 those entertaining cultures 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.

Ultimate reverse, 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 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 ajouter l’insulte à l’injure. It should not be a surprise if during periods 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-speaking people 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 Quebec people, there will not be any real debate on the national question within ethnic groups, and I deplore it bitterly.

De fait, il n'y a que la majorité française qui débatte démocratiquement de la question nationale du Québec. Les communautés anglophones et ethniques non seulement n’abordent pas cette question de façon démocratique, mais ils font tout pour étouffer le débat qui secoue le Québec depuis plus de quarante ans. À ce point de vue, on est encore aux prises avec des communautés culturelles fermées en grande partie à cause des intérêts de certains leaders qui cherchent à préserver leur emprise sur des citoyens fragiles. L'unanimisme actuel de ces groupes a des relents de dictatures. Quelle honte!

La majorité française peut et doit impérativement exercer son leadership afin de favoriser l’apport des groupes anglophone et ethniques à la définition du Québec de demain. Elle doit les inciter à ouvrir les vannes du débat démocratique sur la question nationale du Québec et ce faisant, à libérer les trésors de leur contribution.

Le jour où le débat sur la question nationale du Québec sera étendu à l’ensemble de la société québécoise, abordé par tous les groupes dans toutes les langues parlées par les communautés culturelles et avec la majorité française et la minorité anglaise, on pourra alors prétendre à un réel débat démocratique.

Imaginer la contribution au devenir du Québec de chacun de ces groupes culturels et ethniques, l’élévation, la coloration et l'élargissement du débat sur la question nationale du Québec. Des moments historiques en perspective! Quel bénéfice pour le Québec! Et, surtout quelle leçon de démocratie pour le reste du Canada et le monde entier. Je suis convaincu qu’à cet égard, le Québec peut devenir un « phare » démocratique pour les petits pays.

Une fois que le débat est bien engagé, chaque citoyen peut s’exprimer et penser librement, sans restriction ni entrave dans son cheminement politique de personne conscientisée. Ce sont les conditions essentielles à l’élaboration du vrai visage démocratique du Québec à bâtir et au développement d’une solidarité sociale. Dans un contexte moins favorable au débat démocratique, la polarisation risquerait d’antagoniser les différents groupes et de créer une impasse totale en ce qui concerne l’édification du Québec de demain.

Salomon Cohen, candidat officiel du PQ dans Outremont en 1994, et président de la Commission des communautés culturelles du Bloc québécois de 1998 à 2000.