I know this comes up every millennium, but I'm starting to worry English Canada and Quebec may be growing apart.
For reals this time.
Over the last couple of weeks, the nation's been transfixed by the sudden conflation of two previously unrelated topics: soccer and turbans. First the Quebec Soccer Federation decided to start cracking down on turban-wearing players within its leagues. Then the Federation was expelled from the Canadian Soccer Association for doing so. And now the Federation's still refusing to budge, even amid furious denunciations by virtually every editorial board, political party, and professional athlete in English Canada -- and numerous voices in the Anglo-Quebec press, too.
But why should they surrender? Polls suggest Quebeckers support this no-turbans-on-the-field policy by a margin of over 80 per cent. The province's hysterically separatist government is solidly on side, too -- an unsurprising occurrence given the central role populist xenophobia played in the current premier's rise to power.
Anyway, you can probably guess the tone of the ensuing media coverage.
Writing in the Globe, Patrick Lagacé claims to "hear the echo of Alabama, circa 1955" in all this, particularly given the Quebec Soccer Federation president's let-them-eat-curry dismissal of any Sikh-Canadian offended at having to choose between his sport and his god -- "they can play in their backyard."
"At least she stopped short of saying they should go back to their own country," scoffs Don Macpherson in the Montreal Gazette.
Frankly, it's just more evidence that the French province's "obsessions with linguistic and cultural purity, xenophobia and generalized Franco-supremacy are at an all-time high" fumes Montreal radio host Supriya Dwivedi.
And so on.
In a previous column, I observed that it seems to getting a lot more socially (if not politically) acceptable in polite English-Canadian society these days to just openly condemn Quebec as an awful, ugly place.
Conservatives can't get elected dogcatcher there, so they've largely stopped trying. Moderate progressives are repulsed by the spoiled, sclerotic leftism of their politicians, unions, and student protesters, so they're taking a pass. Everyone else remains unimpressed by the joint's general rudeness and corruption.
In such a context, Quebec's increasingly frequent xenophobic fits -- be it a fear of turbans, fear of burkas, fear of kirpans, fear of kosher meat, or fear of Italian food -- may well prove the final crack in ROC goodwill.
In 21st century Anglo-Canada, after all, multicultural tolerance is the one value that's not really up for discussion or compromise -- especially not in the blunt fashion Quebeckers seem to favor.
Of course, at one time criticizing Quebec in such stark terms was an easy way to get branded a bigot yourself. Ignorant francophobia and whatnot. Some apologists are making that case now, in fact. But the tortured lameness of their arguments reveals how precious little Quebec honor is really left to defend.
Pierre Martin in the Toronto Star, for instance, bemoans the "hyperbole" and "torrent of visceral reactions" that are being thrust at his province in the wake of turban-gate, but his call for restraint on the basis that "Quebec's distinctiveness has led to a different type of progress" on multiculturalism seems a tad weak considering we're, y'know, talking about hats here.
"Just a few short years ago, the exact same [turban] ban was in effect in other Canadian provinces, but no one accused them of the same sins back then," he complains, as if Quebec's consistent presence at the back of these lines wasn't precisely the problem in the first place.
At the National Post, meanwhile, visiting La Presse editor André Pratte offers the familiar defense that while we may not agree with Quebec's, ahem, prickly answer to this "delicate question," surely swinging the heavy federalist hand of the Canadian Soccer Association wasn't right either. Certainly not before holding some "meetings between Quebec soccer officials and counterparts who have had experience with young players wearing the turban."
"Dialogue, mutual understanding, patience," declares André, "that is the Canadian way."
And perhaps it used to be. But after two separation referendums, six separatists premiers, two botched attempts at constitutional reform, and a voting populace that hasn't given the majority of its seats to the winner of a federal election since 1988, Canadian-Quebec dialogue is starting to seem a tad futile, with understanding and patience in ever-shorter supply.
At a time when everything else in Canadian politics is showing signs of flux, the "two solitudes" meme remains stubbornly persistent. Canada's Franco minority and Anglo-Allo majority have not spent the last couple decades congealing into a common whole, they've solidified their differences, particularly their philosophical differences on a whole host of critical policy questions ranging from the acceptable cost of a post-secondary education to the size and generosity of the welfare state to the things immigrants can wear on their heads.
And without putting too fine a point on it, it's getting ever-more difficult for us out here in Anglo-land to muster much sympathy or support for what appears to be an incurably reactionary, economically illiterate, chauvinist province -- a province run by, in the words of one observer, an unholy medley of the "the Green Party, the French Socialists and the nativist wing of the GOP" -- without losing a significant chunk of our own values and identity in the process.
So increasingly, we don't. Good luck kids.