Monday, March 26, 2007

Quebec Muslims pushed to the sidelines in election

Election results from Quebec's provincial election are streaming in tonight, but many Muslims are watching from the sidelines, just as they did during the election campaign.

The problem is that all of the three main parties have shown varying shades of anti-Muslim colours.

The Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), formed in 1994, is led by Mario Dumont. The party is seen as a magnet for radical right-wingers, the Stephen Harper and former-Reform party types. The party has never held more than five seats in the provincial legislature, yet it enjoyed a wave of popularity in this election. Muslims have nothing to gain from the party and everything to lose. Dumont was front and centre in stoking the fire of the reasonable accommodation issue and we seen as the leading anti-Muslim (and anti-immigrant in general) politician. He missed no opportunity to speak against minorities. The ADQ is currently tied for first with the Liberals and an ADQ win will make Quebec a very difficult place to live for Muslims and all religious and cultural minorities. In discussions with the Muslim Council of Montreal, the ADQ indicated that it will take steps to ban the hijab in public buildings.

The Parti Quebecois (PQ) is Quebec's separatist party and is led by Andre Boisclair. Formed in 1968, it has governed Quebec for over 15 years since 1970 yet has never been able to achieve its dream of Quebec independence from Canada. The PQ has support from some Muslim circles, especially those with french-speaking Muslims. Boisclair is gay and took the softest stance (out of all three leaders) in the Asmahan Mansour soccer hijab controversy, when he slammed Premier and Liberal leader Jean Charest for his comments in support of the referee's ruling against Asmahan. But Boisclair got himself into hot water during the campaign by referring to Asians with a "slanted-eyes" comment. The PQ too has indicated, in discussions with the Muslim Council of Montreal, that it would support some sort of action against hijabs.

The Liberal Party of Quebec is the federalist (i.e. against separation from Canada) governing party and is led by Jean Charest. Although normally the choice of immigrants and minorities, the Liberals have taken a conservative slant since Charest, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister, took the helm. Charest came out in support of the referee's anti-hijab decision against Asmahan and the Liberals amended the Immigration Act to limit the number of immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. The Liberal party was the only major party that didn't indicate that it would work against hijabs in the public places, but it doesn't have a good record of keeping promises.

Many Muslims also haven't forgotten the motion brought forward by Liberal member Fatima Houda-Pepin (who has just been re-elected) against Shariah-based family arbitration following a similar debate in neighbouring Ontario. It banned the use of Shariah-based family tribunals in Quebec and went on to advise other provinces in Canada to do the same. The motion passed unanimously in Quebec's National Assembly (legislature). Every single member, from the Liberals, the PQ and the ADQ, voted in support of the motion.

Thus, for the most part, Muslims were left on the sidelines (except in ridings where they banded together to get rid of an anti-Muslim candidate), registering protest votes by voting for smaller parties such as the Green party and Quebec Solidaire, neither of which had a chance of making a dent.

As it stands now (9:36 pm), all three parties are in a tight race (within three percentage points of each other). Yet, Muslims have nothing much to look forward to. The only thing they can pray for is a loss for the ADQ.

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