Conventional wisdom suggests Prime Minister Harper should tread lightly on Quebec Premier Marois' proposed Charter of Quebec values.
However, my unsolicited advice to Harper is more creative and out of the box. Perhaps, a bit outrageous.
But potentially more effective. And may even be a political game changer.
However, firstly, by way of background.
Marois' proposed Charter is more akin to a provocative Charter of Anti-Canadian Values, in which Quebec proposes to legislate against the wearing of religious symbols, i.e. Jewish kippas, Sikh turbans and Muslim head coverings by all civil servants, employees and professionals in Quebec public institutions. Such a Charter would broadly apply to daycare workers, teachers, professors, doctors, nurses, police, firemen and even liquor store retail clerks.
The effect of such aCharter would be to not only remove such religious symbols from Quebec public life, but may also deter Quebec residents who wear such religious symbols from working in such public institutions. Causing also many such religiously observant Quebec residents to avoid using such public services. And ultimately, discouraging such people from coming to or staying in Quebec itself.
Now that is very draconian and short-sighted on Marois' part.
A new Quebec QMI Agency poll suggests 67 per cent of all Quebec respondents -- 77 per cent of francophones -- say there is already "too much" religious accommodation. Two-thirds of francophones say a Charter of Quebec Values is a "good idea."
John Ivison astutely points out in a recent National Post article that,
Harper has spent the summer overhauling his Quebec team, making Denis Lebel, the infrastructure minister, his regional lieutenant, and bringing in a new top adviser, former staffer Catherine Loubier. The intent is to be more sensitive to francophone Quebeckers. This renewed effort has led to a bump in the polls -- up to 38 per cent in the Quebec City region where the party lost all its seats in 2011.
Harper and his team appreciate that if Harper publicly comes down too hard on Marois and her PQ Party and accuse them of being intolerant, xenophobic, and racist,- in addition to Harper potentially losing critical French Quebec votes, Marois and her ministers would also use Harper's intervention to their Party's advantage.
Already Quebec's Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, who is also the minister of "sovereigntist governance," has used Twitter to take a swipe at critical articles in the Calgary Herald and National Post.
"Being called a xenophobe by the Calgary Herald," Cloutier said, in remarks he repeated about the other newspaper. "Once again, a lack of perspective and understanding from the ROC."
Accordingly, if Harper criticized Marois and the PQ using the same language, Marois and his ministers would in turn claim that Harper and the rest of Anglo Canada do not understand French Quebec and its need to protect its identity and culture. Marois would then try to use this proposed Charter as a wedge issue, to: (1) unify French Quebecers against the rest of Canada and proponents of multiculturalism both within and without Quebec; (2) gain an electoral majority in the next Quebec election; and (3) provide a basis for winning conditions for another referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
On the other hand, if Harper does very little, he and his party risk ceding the high moral and political ground to Justin Trudeau on this issue. Harper also risks losing many potential Anglophone, Allophone, ethnic, and federalist francophone Quebec votes to Trudeau and his Liberals. And Harper also risks losing many ethnic voters outside of Quebec.
To Trudeau's credit, Trudeau has publicly criticized the Marois government and has expressed serious concerns about the limits that would be imposed upon Quebec people in terms of their freedom of religion and freedom of expression by this proposed Charter of Quebec Values.
So Harper may be damned if he does or damned, if he doesn't.
Unless Harper tries something completely different.
I propose that Harper go right into Marois' backyard.
Quebec City. Ground Zero for Quebec nationalism.
And be totally uncharacteristic for Stephen Harper.
He should give a rousing, humorous and passionate speech mostly in French, (with a smattering of English, Yiddish and Italian), predominantly directed at French Quebecers.
He should go to Quebec City not to bury Marois, but to praise French Quebec.
Instead of hectoring, lecturing and criticizing Marois and her party over this proposed Charter, (as has been already done by many Canadian and French Canadian commentators), Harper should appeal to the best qualities of French Quebecers.
Not to their base instincts or their prejudices or their insecurities, as Marois has done.
But to French Quebecers' passion for life in all its complexities. Their openness and generous spirit.
Their very un Waspish imagination and creativity. French Quebec gave us Cirque de Soleil. Mon Dieu!
(Could you imagine stuffy Toronto Wasps willing to fling themselves in the air and do death-defying somersaults, without a net?)
And let us not forget the enormous drive, will to win and entrepreneurial spirit of French Quebecers as exemplified by the great Rocket Richard and the folks at Bombardier, who developed the ski-doo, sea- doo, and fancy private jets for international rock stars and Latin American drug lords!
And of course, Quebec humour. Caline de bine.
Quebec is the home of the "Just for Laughs Festival," the largest comedy festival in the world.
And for good reason. Quebec is a pretty wild, crazy, absurd and funny place to live.
I know this from personal experience. I have a female lesbian cousin who is a very popular Quebec stand-up comic. And whose best material is in French about her raunchy relationship with her Muslim comic girlfriend.
Her show, "Kosher Jokes for the Halaladays" just kills. But I digress.
Believe it or not, our very own Stephen Harper is, deep down, one wild and crazy guy.
He has a terrific sense of humour.
When asked if he ever smoked pot, Harper replied that he was offered a joint once, but he was too drunk to smoke it.
Check out Harper on You Tube for his devastatingly funny impressions of Tory leaders Preston Manning, Diefenbaker, and the pompous and puffed up Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.
My point is that Harper has the ability to deliver a very passionate, funny and pro French Quebec speech. Which would resonate with French Quebecers. Who are looking for an alternate vision of French Quebec.
I have Franco-Ontarian friends whose families in Quebec go back centuries. One such friend, her family settled in Quebec 11 generations ago. You can't be more "pure laine" than that.
This wonderful, warm, smart, and tight family seems to be a typical French Quebec family.
Interestingly, at an early age, my friend and all her siblings attended English public schools in Quebec City.
They are still dyed in the wool Quebecois, mostly Quebec City residents, but who are all perfectly bilingual. As are their children. Their children are also all strong French Quebecois, but in some cases, with English, Italian, or Jewish partners. Some are Quebec nationalists. Some are Canadian federalists. But everyone in this family opposes the direction that Marois is taking Quebec.
That is, a Quebec that is afraid of itself. A Quebec that is intolerant, too insular, too homogeneous, anti-multicultural and too close-minded and small-minded.
I am convinced that there are many French Quebec families like this family. Which is open, caring and accepting of diversity and differences. Harper should take on Marois and her Pequistes by reaching out and appealing to these French Quebecers. To their very best natures.
Who knows? Such an effort may be a cultural and political game changer. It is certainly worth a shot.