On Monday when Quebecers go to the polls, they will do so in the background of a drumbeat that says, "voting for the Premier Marois' Parti Quebecois will be a vote against Canada."
This is not a new tactic of the federalists in Quebec. In every election the same flags of fear are waved to scare the Quebecois into voting against the PQ. It's positioned as xenophobic and a threat to Canada.
But is the Parti Quebecois really a racist body and a threat to our country?
As far as the PQ being anti-immigrant is concerned, that question should be put to Maka Kotto, a black man born in Cameroon, an immigrant entrusted by the PQ to be Quebec's Minister of Culture.
That leaves us with the argument that the PQ is a danger to Canada's integrity. If, say tomorrow, Quebec separates from Canada -- a very unlikely scenario -- little will change in the way we live as citizens of a democratic, liberal, secular, constitutional monarchy.
However, if the inroads being made into our society by Saudi-funded Islamist groups remain unchallenged -- as is the case in the rest of Canada -- then let's be prepared for what has happened in the U.K. where Sharia made its official entry into the country's legal system and where hijabi police officers are not an uncommon sight.
One of the most prominent Quebec federalists shares this view.
Former Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin left the Liberal caucus to protest her party's unwillingness to confront the Islamists who oppose Quebec's Charter of Secularism.
As the only Muslim woman in the Quebec National Assembly, Houda-Pepin told reporters, "I have spent 30 years of my life fighting [Islamic] fundamentalism, I cannot talk out of both sides of my mouth." She is now contesting from her riding as an independent.
Houda-Pepin is not the only person of colour or of Arab background who is running on a platform supporting secularism in Quebec.
Comedienne Nabila Ben Youssef and poet Karim Akouche joined dozens of Quebec personalities who signed an article urging the Quebecois to back the Charter.
Algerian-born Rachid Bandou is one of four other PQ candidates of Arab and African heritage running on the PQ ticket. He told me in an email, the reason he was contesting the elections was to "get an opportunity to explain the Secular Charter to voters who come as immigrants from many religions, and whom the Liberals are trying to scare by demonizing the Charter."
Another Muslim running on the PQ platform is Yasmina Chouakri in riding of Anjou - Louis-Riel. Born in Algeria, Choukari says, "The Charter is necessary to guarantee equality between all citizens, and also equality between all beliefs and equality between man and woman."
Leila Mahiout, vice-president of the Montreal's Festival of Arabic World and who was born in Morocco, is running for the PQ in Bourassa-Sauve. She says, "For me as a Muslim the Secular Charter is a tool that will ease the integration of new Québécois who come as immigrants." She emphasized, "Religion is something that is lived privately and that we could keep home. Those who works inside government must be neutral in their way of doing things, and they also must be neutral in the way they look."
The main opposition to the PQ comes from the Liberal party, led by Phillipe Couillard, who has been called upon in the campaign to explain his relationship with Saudi authorities from the time he worked as a surgeon for a state-owned oil company in the Kingdom and as a consultant to the government in 2010.
Couillard was attacked by his former liberal colleague Ms. Houda-Pepin who labelled him as the "strategic ally" of Islamic fundamentalists who use the freedom of religion enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to "impose their political agenda" in Quebec.
The Quebec website Pointe de Bascule and other critics of Couillard claim he once a member of the International Advisory Board of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health and has had a hand in facilitating the arrival of hundreds of poorly-trained Saudi doctors for internship in Quebec hospitals.
I asked the Quebec Liberal leader to comment on his relationship with Saudi officials, if any, but received no response to my email.
Here are the questions I put to Couillard:
- Could you please explain why you didn't deposit your savings with banks inside Saudi Arabia? After all, CitiBank (SAMBA), Banque IndoSuez (Bank AlFransi), HBFC (Saudi British Bank) and a number of foreign banks operate in Saudi Arabia (KSA).
- As Minister of Health, were you instrumental in the opening up of residencies in Quebec hospitals for Saudi-trained doctors?
- During your stay in KSA or since, have you ever had any contact with Prince Bandar Bin Sultan or any other member of the Saudi royal family in your personal or professional dealings?
- Lastly, during your years in Saudi Arabia or since coming back to Quebec, have you ever criticized the apartheid that exists in KSA both in gender relations and the salaries and benefits paid to people based on their race and country of origin?
In other published reports, Couillard has rejected allegations he endorses Islamic fundamentalism or the policies of the Saudi government, which he said most Quebecers reject.
Just because someone goes to work in a foreign country, he argued, doesn't mean they automatically endorse its policies.
Still, between Marois, who is fighting against Saudi-based Islamism with her secular charter and Couillard, to whom this issue doesn't appear to be a priority, I say, "Vote PQ to save Canada."
A version of this column was first published in The Toronto Sun on April 2, 2014
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