Friday, February 09, 2007

When in doubt, strike a commission

Facing a scandal in Hérouxville and studies which claim that the majority of Quebeckers are at least somewhat racist (although the methodology of these polls are suspect), Quebec Premier Jean Charest has opted to follow a glorious Canadian tradition and strike a commission to resolve the debate over how to integrate minorities into Quebec society.

Charest's selection of commission co-chairs makes it evident that he's not seeking radical new proposals. Gérard Bouchard, a sociologist and historian at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and Charles Taylor, a philosophy professor at McGill (and former NDP candidate), are both outspoken proponents of the collectivist approach to identity that has long been followed by successive Quebec governments. Essentially, Jean Charest is paying these two leading intellectuals to go across the province, hold hearings, and then slightly rephrase their existing published works in a nice report in a year's time.

The Bouchard-Taylor Commission may diffuse the issue for a while, as commissions are expected to do. However, to make a big deal out of the commission being non-partisan ducks the main issue. It is ideologically and intellectually one-sided, and will not produce a report that calls for any substantial revision of Quebec's policies to give greater latitude to individual rights or pluralism. I have little doubt that the report will be well-written and intellectually rigorous. But if you want a preview of the outcome, you could read La nation au singulier et au pluriel, Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism, and Multiculturalism and The Politics of Recognition for a pretty good overview of what that commission will say.

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