What I would tell an immigrant

Editor's note: this post is a translation of an opinion piece written by Boucar Diouf, a stand-up comic, raconteur, biologist and TV host. Click here to read the original French text.

Before leaving Sénégal for Québec in 1991, I was told about culture shock, temperature, freedom, openness, humor and many other aspects of the identity and culture of its people. But nobody told me about this unique relationship that the majority of Québécois have with religion. Yet, it is of the utmost importance to inform people that immigrating to Québec is far from being the same as settling in the rest of Canada. Québec has a relationship with religion, and gender equality, that even the Western part of the country barely understands. For proof, just remember how the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler befell people here while you could almost hear some of our neighbors to the West say "good riddance!".

The debate about the Charter led me to think that the exercise was indispensable. Religious extremism can in no way mesh with French-language Québec culture. In fact, had I to inform an immigration applicant on the subject, this is what I would say:

"Sir, before you leave, you should know that since the mass desertion of churches, caused by the Quiet Revolution, the majority of Québécois have a very peculiar relationship with religion. Québec may have the highest rate of agnostic citizens in North America. To the point that, today, it is mainly missionaries from the South, Latin America and Africa, that timidly try to rekindle the faith in some parts of la belle province."

"Once very pious, this nation has become the territory of the greatest blasphemers of the galaxy. Here, not content with having transformed churches into condos, we recycled liturgical accessories into as many swear words that punctuate the local language and make the delight of stand-up comics who have become champions all categories of religious desecration."

"You are about to come to the most open and peaceful nation in North America. You are about to meet women who are among the most assertive and egalitarian in the Western world; where the mere mention of religious rights causes a general urticaria crisis; where the right to abortion is non-negotiable; where men are entitled to paternity leave; where marriage is no longer a sacred institution and one of every two couples divorces when things go sour; where teenagers in their puberty are allowed to kiss and date; where gays and lesbians conspicuously display their orientation and have the right to marry; where sex change to find one's existential balance is also well accepted."

"It is all these qualities that make Québec, while not perfect, a land of freedom, openness and tolerance, for those who are willing to keep an open mind. If I tell you all this, it is because some of these very progressive social gains, which proudly cement our collective identity, are incompatible with a strict reading of religious dogmas. These social gains could very well lead many extremists to look at us as representatives of Satan on Earth."

"Then sir, with all this information, if you have no objection that one day your children may date, kiss, sleep with and marry one of ours, it is because you are agnostic or practice your religion with moderation. Québec is thus an obvious choice to make it a land of your own."

Yes, Fatima Houda-Pepin, you are right to believe that fundamentalists are the real enemies of secularism! I would add that they also are the enemies of the vast majority of believers, whom they harm by rebound.


A bird in the hand

I work in a completely bilingual environment. Anglos and Francos working together speaking whichever of the two languages feels the most comfortable or is best suited for the occasion. Truly a great working experience.

I was having a casual conversation on the current Québec elections with one of my Anglo colleagues this week. He was whining about the general state of political instability the province has been in for so long, putting forward that it was detrimental to the economy of both the country and the province; I agree. When I replied that he was right and added that the only party with a proposal to solve this instability is the Parti Québécois, he looked at me puzzled.

I explained that, although support for sovereignty has been under the 40% mark for a while, the vast majority of Québécois is against the constitutional status quo. Polls found that seven out of 10 believe the Québec government should try to initiate constitutional change in Canada. I stressed that proponents of the federalist option mostly look away, sweeping the issue under the rug, pretending that Canada is a united country. "This is the cause of the instability", I added. "Maintaining a fertile ground for the sovereignty movement." He was not sure what to think.

He then confessed he voted for the PLQ through early vote. "I understand that you would not vote for the PQ, but why not CAQ?" I asked. He replied he voted strategically for the option with the most chance of preventing a PQ victory... I recently rationalized his decision.

Faced with the decision between:
  1. a party that will perhaps hold a referendum that will perhaps be victorious that will perhaps be detrimental to Anglos; and
  2. a party that saw the provincial debt increase from G$125 to G$175 in the nine years it was in power and did everything it could to prevent the Charbonneau Commission.
... he chose the latter.

I gather this gives a whole new meaning to the old saying: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."