The Political Integrity of One Secular MNA Contrasts with the Venality of Her Colleagues
This blog tells the story of former MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin and how she recently exposed the venality of a certain dubious philosopher.
Sommaire en français Ce blogue raconte l’histoire de l’ex-députée Fatima Houda-Pepin et comment elle a récemment dévoilé la prévarication d’un certain philosophe douteux.
The story of Mme Fatima Houda-Pepin, a secular Muslim, is probably not well-known outside Quebec. It deserves to be.
Madame Fatima Houda-Pepin was a Member of National Assembly (MNA) for the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP), first elected in 1994. When in 2013 the Parti Québécois government proposed its Charter of Secularism (the oft-used name “Charter of Values” is a misnomer, being only the preliminary name before the draft bill was published), Mme Houda-Pepin, like her party, opposed it. However, that is not the end of our story. It is only the beginning. Because Mme Houda-Pepin’s position on the subject of secularism was nevertheless very different from that of her party.
Unlike so many Charter opponents who rejected the Charter of Secularism by mindless reflex, declaring that the proposed legislation was a response to a non-existent need, Mme Houda-Pepin recognized that, on the contrary, a major societal issue required legislative action. As an alternative to the PQ’s Charter, she proposed her own law, Draft Bill 491, “An Act respecting the religious neutrality of the State and the fight against religious fundamentalism…”, which, among other things, stipulated the following:
- “All State personnel are imposed a duty of religious neutrality in the exercise of their functions. Persons in authority with the power to coerce, such as judges, prosecutors, police officers and correctional officers, are prohibited from wearing conspicuous religious symbols in the exercise of their functions.”
- “State personnel are prohibited from wearing a chador, a niqab or a burka.”
- “The bill requires that State services be provided and received with an uncovered face, except in cases of occupational necessity or for health or safety reasons.”
- “the Premier is also required to create, by legislative or regulatory means, a centre dedicated to action research on religious fundamentalism and its impact on democracy, human rights and youth rights.”
The full text of Draft Bill 491 is available. It is not very long.
… if Couillard really cared about the issue of religious accommodation, … he would have made overtures to the Parti Québécois to negotiate some kind of compromise between the PQ’s Charter and Houda-Pepin’s proposed bill.
If the leadership of the QLP had had some modicum of political integrity, if its leader Philippe Couillard really cared about the issue of so-called “reasonable accommodation”–i.e. religious accommodation–which was causing such upheaval in Quebec, he would have welcomed Draft Bill 491 and, furthermore, would have made overtures to the Parti Québécois to negotiate some kind of compromise between the PQ’s Charter and Houda-Pepin’s proposed bill. But Couillard and the QLP did no such thing. Instead they rejected her bill and expelled her from the caucus. Mme Houda-Pepin henceforth sat as an independent in the National Assembly.
In the Quebec election of April 2014, the Parti Québécois abstained from running a candidate in the riding La Pinière, instead directing its supporters to vote for Houda-Pepin. The Liberal Party parachuted a high-profile candidate Gaétan Barrette into the riding. He defeated Houda-Pepin, was named Minister of Health in the newly elected Liberal government and has since been playing havoc with Quebec’s health-care system with widespread austerity measures.
Now fast forward to January of 2017. A horrific mass murder occurs in a Quebec City mosque. The perpetrator is a non-Muslim. There is widespread condemnation of this terrible act, including of course from those who support secularism and who criticize religion regularly (such as myself) because, for one thing, such gratuitous, murderous violence can never be justified, and, furthermore, it will only play into the hands of Islamist fundamentalists by giving them a pretext to further their program, especially since one of their favourite strategies is playing the victim. Nothing good can come of such horror.
And that is indeed what happened. Almost immediately, unscrupulous politicians and others started slandering secularists by claiming that their support for the PQ’s Charter of Secularism somehow helped cause the Quebec City shooting. This chorus of voices was joined by a certain Charles Taylor who had been co-chair of the famous Bouchard-Taylor Commission which, a decade ago, was mandated to study the controversial issue of religious accommodation. One of the principal recommendations of that Commission was very similar to one of the main provisions of Houda-Pepin’s proposed Bill 491: a ban on religious symbols for public servants in positions of coercive authority. Taylor now repudiates that recommendation, saying that no such ban should be implemented, and he claims that the Quebec City mosque shooting led him to that change of heart.
But Taylor is being less than truthful, and it is Fatima Houda-Pepin who set the record straight for us. She revealed that Taylor had discreetly repudiated the recommendation years ago, at around the time she presented her Draft Bill 491. Indeed, shortly before Houda-Pepin was expelled from the Liberal caucus, Premier Couillard forbade her from discussing her proposed legislation with the caucus. To underline his rejection of any ban on religious symbols, Couillard revealed that Taylor as well was ready to reject such a ban.
Taylor … did not have a change of heart because of the mosque shooting. On the contrary, he cynically exploited that tragic event as an excuse to rationalize a decision he had made years before.
Thus, thanks to Fatima Houda-Pepin, we now know that Taylor’s recent behaviour was at best disingenuous, and arguably dishonest. He did not have a change of heart because of the mosque shooting. On the contrary, he cynically exploited that tragic event as an excuse to rationalize a decision he had made years before.
Taylor has thus thoroughly undermined the recommendations of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, although the other co-president of the Commission, Gerald Bouchard, has not changed his position. Subsequently, Couillard has opportunistically used Taylor’s about-face to justify an intransigent attitude towards any consideration of a ban on religious symbols worn by public servants, even by those with coercive authority. The premier has rejected any possibility of compromise with the two opposition parties on that issue.
Next blog: Rules for a Discussion about Religion