The Incompetence of Shachi Kurl

Her “Question” to Bloc Leader Blanchet was Not a Question

2021-09-22

The behaviour of Angus Reid president Shachi Kurl at the English-language leaders’ debate shows that she is incompetent as she was unable, or unwilling, to conduct herself with a modicum of impartiality.

Sommaire en français Le comportement du président d’Angus Reid Shachi Kurl lors du débat des chefs en anglais montre qu’elle est incompétente car elle n’a pas pu, ou n’a pas voulu, se conduire avec un minimum d’impartialité.

Shachi Kurl is president of the polling agency Angus Reid Institute and was moderator of the 9th September 2021 English-language debate of federal political party leaders. The election is now over, with results practically identical to the party standings before the election. Nevertheless, the controversy caused by the behaviour of the moderator at this debate remains very relevant.

The debate began with the theme of “Leadership and Accountability” in which Kurl, after initial questions to Singh and Trudeau, caused a scandal by asking the following as her first question to Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet:

You deny that Quebec has problems with racism, yet you defend legislation, such as bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones. Quebec is recognized as a distinct society but for those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.

Canada election 2021: English-language federal leaders’ debate | FULL

For this question, Kurl was accused of Quebec-bashing by many Quebecers, including the entire National Assembly which unanimously passed a motion calling for the broadcasters of the debate to apologize. Not only did Quebec Premier Legault denounce Kurl’s attack on Quebec, even Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole agreed that Kurl’s formulation was inappropriate.

These accusations against Shachi Kurl for the tendentious nature of her question are of course totally well-founded. As I have been explaining for years, opposition to Quebec’s secularism Bill 21 is motivated, in part, by anti-Québécois ethnic bigotry (or racism if you prefer) which has been a recurring theme throughout Canadian history. This is the reality of the situation, although so-called anti-racists fail to recognize it. (Kurl’s question also referred to Draft Bill 96, legislation whose purpose is to strengthen protection of the French language and which would establish French as sole official language in Quebec. The federal House of Commons has, by an overwhelming majority, endorsed having that official status recognized in the Canadian Constitution, although a few anti-Francophone fanatics are still upset about it. However, Bill 96 is beyond the scope of this blog.)

The essential point to be made here is that Shachi Kurl’s “question” was not a question. Rather, it was obviously an accusation. It baldly asserted an extremely negative value judgment—that Bill 21 is discriminatory and perhaps even “racist”—dishonestly disguised as a question.

The fact that Kurl was unable or unwilling to ask a real question, having at least some semblance of impartiality, is proof of her incompetence. For the president of a polling agency, this is particularly disturbing, for how can anyone have confidence in the impartiality of a polling firm if its president is not even capable of formulating a question appropriately when moderating a political debate? If the moderator behaves like a partisan participant in the debate, rather than a disinterested arbiter, then she or he is incompetent.

Kurl could have formulated her question is a much more unbiased manner. She could, for example, have simply observed that some commentators have asserted that Bill 21 (or Bill 96) is discriminatory and then asked Blanchet his opinion of that assertion. But she did not. Instead, she choose to ask an extremely loaded question, making the negative assertions her own and denigrating the Québécois as racist.

When asked about the controversy, Kurl referred to the decision of Justice Marc-André Blanchard of the Quebec Superior Court, rendered 20th April 2020, which did indeed qualify Bill 21 as discriminatory while nevertheless upholding much of the law. This judgment stands as long as it is not overturned by a higher court. However, that decision can hardly be considered a reasonable assessment of Bill 21. Recall the following aspects of Justice Blanchard’s decision:

  • The judgment exempts English-language schools from Bill 21 on the grounds that it violates minority-language rights. This is absurd. Bill 21 has nothing to do with language or language rights.
  • The judgment suspends Bill 21’s ban on face-coverings for sitting members of the Quebec National Assembly, on the grounds that the ban violates the right to vote and run for public office. Again, this makes no sense, as such a ban in no way affects voting or running for office.
  • The judgment asserts that religious symbols worn by a person are far more important that political symbols because they involve the very “soul or essence” of the believer. This gives religious expression a priority greatly exceeding that of political expression, thus egregiously privileging religion. It also asserts—ludicrously—the existence of the human soul!
  • The judgment criticizes Bill 21 for failing to recognize any law of “God.” This implies that the State should recognize religious law, not just the law of the land, a totally unacceptable situation.

To say that Justice Blanchard’s decision was in error would be the understatement of the century. If Shachi Kurl has to resort to that decision to justify her tendentious behaviour at the leaders’ debate, she is grasping at straws.

It is important to remember that opposition to Quebec Bill 21 is based on totally neglecting the rights of civil service users and schoolchildren to an environment free of religious proselytism. Instead, the law’s opponents give absolute priority to the freedom of religious expression of the employee while displaying utter contempt for the rights of the users and schoolchildren whom the employees serve. They offer no valid reason to justify this religious privilege.

Finally, the association of Bill 21 with “racism” which is part of Shachi Kurl’s “question” is standard practice for the law’s opponents. Although the law obviously has nothing whatsoever to do with race or racism, opponents like Kurl irrationally and dishonestly conflate race with religion. This allows them to make specious accusations of racism, because defamation is their primary weapon in their war against secularism. Their constant use of such slander against secularists is proof of the vacuity of their arguments.


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