Editorial: Drainville is Scared of a Real Debate on the Charter

Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

Despite being the minister in charge of the Parti Québécois’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values, Bernard Drainville sure seems scared of defending it.

Citing security concerns, Drainville backed out of the Concordia-hosted debate on Nov. 21 at the last minute, leaving Liberal MNA Kathleen Weil and former Québec solidaire interim president André Frappier to discuss the bill. Both Weil and Frappier’s parties disagree with the proposed charter in its current form, so the ensuing discussion was less of a debate and more of a one-sided conversation.

As for the alleged security risk—the protest, planned by Concordia’s chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, only saw a handful of people holding a sign while standing peacefully outside Concordia’s J.A. de Sève Cinema.

Concordia placed security guards at the event. As a cabinet minister, Drainville also has some form of protective detail, which could presumably have been beefed up for the duration of the debate if he was concerned for his safety.

Much has been made of QPIRG Concordia’s refusal to say whether they intended to disrupt the debate, but we’ll never know whether the event would have proceeded normally because Drainville was too cowardly to actually show up—to defend his charter in front of those who will be directly be affected by it.

Some have suggested that Drainville had his freedom of expression denied by intimidation tactics. Drainville had every right to speak freely at the debate in defence of his government’s proposal, but we mustn’t forget that so too did the protesters outside, as long as they didn’t turn violent.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, there’s no reason to believe anything violent would have happened had Drainville actually shown up. If he was expecting Concordia to ban the charter’s opponents, Drainville would have been speaking to an empty room.

And if Drainville was shocked that a largely anglophone and allophone university would house dissenting views towards his charter, then he’s even more disconnected from Montreal than we could have ever imagined.

Being greeted by a protest dubbed a “welcoming committee” and then possibly being disrupted by outbursts could have been damaging for his party’s image, or his own.

Backing out gives his supporters the opportunity to cry censorship—but it was self censorship. Concordia is far more diverse than the National Assembly. Drainville decided cut and run from divergent opinions.

Had he shown up to the debate, Drainville would have had to look in the eyes of members of the university’s female Muslim population, whom he is telling to stay indoors with his charter. What does it say about the minister if he couldn’t muster up the courage to explain his reasoning to those who would be the most affected by it?

The opinion polls indicate a considerable split in public opinion between linguistic groups on the issue. In mid-September—long before Bill 60 was actually tabled in the National Assembly—polls were showing that anglophones and allophones were 72 and 66 per cent opposed to the charter, respectively. For the whole population, 43 per cent were in favour of it, while 42 per cent were against it.

There’s a similar split in support between different age groups.

A mid-September poll by Léger Marketing showed 43 per cent of young Quebecers were against the charter, with only 33 per cent in favour—and that was before the extent of the charter’s implications on Quebec’s multicultural universities were even known.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, that an appearance by Drainville at an English-language university would have stirred considerable controversy—particularly at Concordia, a university known for its history of activism.

Faced with the prospect of debating the charter in front of its harshest critics, he sent the message that he had nothing valuable to say.

Drainville had the opportunity to try and sway our opinion on his brand of “secularism,” but instead played scared by a protest, surely nothing new to a Quebec politician.

Drainville’s no-show further damages the legitimacy of the charter—and by his absence, he demonstrated the same fear of difference reflected in the bill.