For decades, Alberta’s conservative politicians have complained about the preferential treatment Quebec receives from the federal government and its elected officials. It’s so much a part of the province’s shared identity that a fleur-de-lis with a strike through it should be added to Alberta’s official coat of arms.

But for the most part, whether it was the equalization program or their attitude towards oil and gas infrastructure, it was much ado about nothing. Now, with Quebec’s Bill 21, they may finally have a point.

The controversial legislation, which bans the wearing of religious symbols on the job by public servants, has been blasted from every conceivable political direction. Progressive mayors like Calgary’s Jyoti Gondek oppose it. Conservative leaders like Brampton mayor and former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown want to fund challenges against it. Even Ken Boessenkool and Jamie Carroll, old political foes from the Harper/Dion era, shared a byline on a piece that called out Bill 21 as an example of state-sanctioned bigotry and discrimination.

Everyone, it seems, is united in their opposition to the bill — except the federal politicians who might have to face the wrath of nationalist Quebec voters down the road. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been conspicuously cautious in how he presents his criticism, arguing that while he’s personally opposed to the bill, he’s not ready for his government to intervene against it just yet.

He tried to thread this needle in a year-end interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton, suggesting "the challenge we have on this one is making sure that people understand that fundamental rights need to be defended. Governments can and should defend them and have a role in it, but our fellow citizens can also be standing up for each other."

This is, of course, abject nonsense.

When it comes to a provincial government depriving some of its citizens of their rights, and using the notwithstanding clause to do it, individuals aren’t the ones who should be asked to respond. That role falls squarely to the federal government, and it’s one that Trudeau clearly doesn’t want to take given the potential political (and electoral) fallout in Quebec. The risk he’s trying to navigate is very real, too: according to a September poll, nearly two-thirds of Quebecers support Bill 21.

He’s hardly alone there. Erin O’Toole warned his own caucus not to speak out against it, suggesting “this is an issue that is best left for Quebecers to decide.” Even NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who only has one seat left in Quebec (and would be barred from teaching or serving in other public capacities under the law), has until very recently refused to say that Ottawa should intervene on behalf of those impacted by the bill.

All three leaders are terrified of what will happen if they say aloud what so many know in their hearts: that Bill 21 is unquestionably and irredeemably racist.

The double standard at work here is pretty obvious, too. After all, if Jason Kenney’s government passed legislation that banned public officials from wearing hijabs or turbans on the job, and used the notwithstanding clause to protect it from a charter challenge, the response from Ottawa would be instantaneous. There would be no weighing of political risks or soft-pedalling of the truth. Trudeau and Singh would broadcast their opposition to the bill as loudly as possible, while a sensible conservative leader who didn’t want to forfeit all of their remaining votes in the Greater Toronto Area would have to say something mildly critical.

Opinion: Everyone, it seems, is united in their opposition to Quebec's Bill 21 — except the federal politicians who might have to face the wrath of nationalist Quebec voters down the road, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #CDNpoli

Therein lies the difference between those two provinces.

If you’re a federal politician, you’re free to tap dance on Alberta, but you’d best tiptoe around Quebec if you want to actually win an election. That doesn’t make any of Alberta’s other whining about Quebec right or fair, and it doesn’t change the basic political calculus in this country. Such is the risk of crying wolf for a living.

But the sooner our federal politicians find the courage to speak truth to Quebec’s political power, the better off we’ll all be.

Yes, it’s entirely possible the Bloc Québécois could use federal opposition as a wedge issue and expand its vote and seat totals in the province. But it’s just as possible that rushing to the defence of a racist law could backfire on the BQ, and give the other federal parties an opening they didn’t have before.

Either way, we won’t know until they and their leaders try. If they don’t, we’ll know something else: that having political power is more important to them than what they do with it.

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If I may paraphrase novelist Hugh MacLennan, Canada is a country of Three Solitudes; English, French and First Nations. Very few are able to cross the frontier in order to see the point of view of the other solitude!

As a member of the English Solitude, Mr. Fawcett writes; «... Bill 21 is unquestionably and irredeemably racist...». I beg to disagree with this distorted perception of what is happening in Quebec.

But just like many opponents of Bill 21, he refuses to see the liberating effects of Bill 21 especially for Muslim women. Mrs Yasmine Mohammed wrote; “...I can tell you that many Muslims, men and women, are in favour of Bill 21. We are in favour of a lay state(laïcité) in Quebec,we do not want the charia. We left the country where we lived and we came to Canada because we want a lay state...” (see pic.twitter.com/Iryyhx71aj )

I will let Mrs Dgémila Ben Habib explain Bill 21 as it applies to the situation in Chelsea; “...The Fatemeh Anvari affair is not a referendum for or against that teacher...It is about the choice of a nation, and of a lay school system versus a racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic, islamic ideology, which tries to drape itself in the clothes of human rights in order to contaminate the school system and the spirit of our children. A teacher who puts her religious convictions above her professional obligations shouldn't be in a school. Its that simple. It is not the lay state (laïcité of Bill 21) that excludes her, but a rigid interpretation of Islam which puts down women and forces them into a straight jacket. Furthermore, the islamic veil is not a religious prescription. Franco-algerian Iman Kahina Bahloul confirms that the hijab is neither a priority, nor a pillar of Islam...Rather, it is a political Islam that has transformed it into a uniform of a (political) ideal under the garb of religion...” ( My translation; for original text see https://www.ledroit.com/2021/12/11/djemila-benhabib-sur-le-hidjab-de-che... )

Since Bill 22 (yes, that's right 22!) was voted in 1974 by Premier Robert Bourassa, a half dozen laws have raised the hackles of the English-speaking solitude. Each time, it was a head-on collision between the English-speaking vision versus the French-speaking vision! Whether the English Solitude likes it or not, these laws are necessary for the long term survival of our language and our culture; we need these tools to promote our language on a continent where 375 millions anglophones live. Furthermore, these laws are the guarantee that all, especially women, are treated equally. Mr Fawcett writes excellent articles about climate changes, but he needs some additional information about this issue. That Bill 21 is «...irredeemably racist..» is a statement that is flirting dangerously with anti-Quebec hate propaganda!

I have prepared a five page historical synthesis of the need for such laws. In the name of balanced reporting, and in order that readers may see the perspective from Quebec, would National Observer publish that text about «Three Solitudes»?

Thank you! For the first time ever, I will now disagree with Max.
And, in terms of federal political parties - I hope they find their courage to say what they think and believe. Then others will also find their courage and speak up. And we can then sort it out

Exactly. Well put on the three solitudes, or silos. The only thing I would add is the observation that the man-made ideas that comprise religion itself are the root problem, and because they can't possibly meet the rational criteria put forth in "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and because keeping one SELF convinced requires actual EFFORT, religion's adherents are naturally defensive and require regular affirmations like banding together in clubhouses for example. But that's not enough, it's never enough, they marched into schools, and now want government because it's the ultimate PUBLIC affirmation. And they're getting there using the trojan horse of political conservatism and "the economy" with much help from our Charter, and our Canadian identity of uber-tolerance, and since 9-11, the fear of being labelled "Islamophobic," despite the ONGOING realities of ISIS and the Taliban.

Bah. If the problem was what you define, all you would need would be a law saying nobody is allowed to force anybody to wear religious symbols. Bill 21 doesn't even do that, so it doesn't actually deal in any way with what you and many Quebecois swear up and down is the problem.

Could we get real for a moment? Nobody is going to get converted to some regressive form of Islam because their teacher wears a hijab. Nobody is going to be entrapped into Sikhism because their Sikh cop wears a turban. Further, women getting viciously dominated by male relatives into wearing headscarfs against their will, are not the women who are going to become teachers or public-facing public servants. So the law will only be impacting people who are wearing religious symbols of their own free will. So on all the possibly-relevant fronts, the law doesn't actually do anything that is useful to anybody or stop any kind of bad behaviour. If you wanted any of that stuff, you would need a DIFFERENT LAW.

The law does only one thing: Send a message to all the citizens of Quebec that Muslims and Sikhs are second class citizens not fit to be seen in public. And although embarrassment at the amazingly public nature of it finally got them to pull the huge cross out of the Assemblee Nationale, there's still tons of visible Christian symbolism all over the Quebec government and they're in no hurry to get rid of it.

Finally, your comment is itself pretty dashed arrogant, a tad racist itself. Apparently those brown people always force their women into servitude and need us white folks to tell them how to do their religion properly (although it's good if we can find one or two outliers to back our play, give us a fig leaf). Guys with turbans apparently don't exist, and neither do women who feel on their own that how they want to do Islam involves wearing a headscarf or veil or something.

You quote someone saying "A teacher who puts her religious convictions above her professional obligations shouldn't be in a school." Sounds lovely if you don't think about it. But OK, first, WHAT professional obligations? There's nothing about the job itself that requires not wearing a veil. Meanwhile, it's not a choice anyone else is being forced to make, so we don't know how many Christians or Jews would be willing to renounce their religion as an employment condition. And again, nobody's particularly interested in finding out--laicite is for the lesser people with lesser religions. And no goal other than racism is being served by forcing the choice.
I think it's pretty much equivalent to making a law preventing teachers from having sex with people of the same gender, and then when gays complain saying "A teacher who puts her sexuality above her professional obligations shouldn't be in a school". Don't think that would fly real well either.

Now there is one angle you bring up that has a real point. One of your quotes speaks of "a lay school system versus a racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic, islamic ideology"--so OK, if you want to make a serious argument that Islam is inherently racist, sexist and homophobic . . . then Bill 21 is hardly enough, clearly the whole religion would need to be banned. But the same argument applies with about as much force to every major religion. I've read most of the Old Testament--Christianity is totally out if that's your standard. Gotta ban 'em all. On the other hand, if you're trying to say that somehow Islam is uniquely awful because women who believe in it sometimes dress differently . . . nah, that's racist. Religionist? At any rate, it's discriminating on a basis that our charter of rights and most serious rights documents prohibit.

Speaking of the "Three Solitudes"--yeah, the Quebecois have always had at least as much racism problem as the rest of us. There's a reason First Nations voted overwhelmingly against separation--bad as Canada has treated them over the years, Quebec has been worse. Quebec nationalism has always been big on Francophone white Quebecois of French extraction not being discriminated against, but this has rarely gone together with a more general principle of non-discrimination; some Quebec nationalists on the left consider this important, but the overall zeitgeist has been more tribal, with the Quebecois taking the Anglo boot off their neck and simultaneously putting the boot on the neck of anyone who can't stop them. Parizeau famously blamed the "ethnic" vote for defeating one of the referenda . . . it was considered a racist comment, but he may have been right. If so, why? Because those "ethnics" feared the Quebec nationalist project would step on them harder than the Canadian project would. All in the name of "laicite", no doubt. The Bill 21 version of not being racist is basically "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the white as well as the brown from being brown in public".

This law is important because it's the only pushback in the country and approved by so many in Quebec because it reaffirms the separation of church and state, obviously a slippery slope that requires constant vigilance because it erodes every time conservatives somehow manage to win power. Our premier for example is a closet gay Catholic who regularly exhibits the perversity attendant upon that particular, volatile mix.
Also, religious freedom is in our charter as a PRIVATE right, which is where religion belongs, and is what this bill highlights.

Separation of church and state and "laicite" are quite different concepts. The former is closely associated with "freedom of religion", the idea being mainly that having one religion as the state religion is bad because it oppresses OTHER RELIGIONS (and by extension, the people who worship them). The latter is not, it's based on the idea that religion with state power oppresses EVERYONE and so must be put down whether you care about other religions or not; it's quite compatible with oppressing religions individually or severally. Bill 21 has nothing to do with separating church and state, and virtually nothing to do with the real point of Laicite come to that; the only religions targeted by it have never had the slightest influence in the Quebec state, much less been the state religion or in a position to oppress other religions or use the state to oppress anybody. It would be a solution looking for a problem . . . except that in real life, the problem it wants to solve is the problem of Muslims or Sikhs thinking they get to be equal citizens.

Now I personally am an atheist, I have no axe to grind here. I would be mildly pleased if all religions withered away. But oppressing people who belong to religions because of their faith is still unjust. That's what Bill 21 does.

"Laicite" was invented when the Catholic church was extremely powerful, oppressive and intertwined with the state, and powerful tools were needed to combat it. Nowadays it isn't used for that, though. It has been repurposed as a tool to use against minorities so they don't get too uppity. Happens in France too. Quebec is better than the rest of us on the environment; I give 'em kudos. On race, not so much.

I agree. And I’m also an atheist. I’m probably cognitively dissonant about a lot of things but religiion is not one of them.

I’m hoping that this is a Justin Trudeau blackface moment for some of my friends and neighbours. Quebeckers are generally a warm and generous lot and Bill 21 seems out of character..

On environmentalism though I try to think kindly about our Alberta cousins - the church that oil has built has been both a blessing and a curse. Not sure if places were reversed if Quebeckers would have handled things any better.

I’ve set down family roots and lived in Quebec for twenty years.

The ends must never be used to justify the means.

My personal seculariam is all about inclusion not exclusion. It is about including and empowering everyone to live their best lives and participate in building a better society together.

Denying someone a job because of their religion is discriminatory. And doing it in the name of secularism diminishes Quebec’s lay state to the point that it makes my heart sink when I think about the pain this law in its name has inflicted on this teacher and her family and what this ugly episode has shown our kids and our world the depths that Quebeckers will allow themselves to sink to in pursuit of secularism.

We must recognize and be proud to speak out against any discrimination when we see it. And we must call out ill-conceived laws like Bill 21 that discriminate and hurt people and mislead us along to hell along a path of good intentions.

Mr. Montpetit, please remember that history has shown us again and again again that the ends can never and should never be used to justify the means.

This teacher is not hurting children with her headscarf she is showing them that everyone is welcome here in Quebec to live their best life and contribute fully to our communities and as that school’s motto states in this the Chelsea community that there is respect for all by all.

This has nothing to do with solitudes, it has to do with basic human rights a concept that is universal..

The road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. This law in the name of our lay state hurts our felliow Quebeckers and only diminishes and divides us.

But you are dancing right by the fact that TWO THIRDS of Quebecers support this bill. Why do you think that is? Generally speaking, Quebec is a country leader in progressivism and have by far and away the most exemplary, sophisticated culture in the country, one that is both deep and wide i.e. theirs IS indeed a distinct society. The inability of the embarrassingly "provincial" western provinces like Alberta to accept that with any grace whatsoever, let alone appreciate it is the only real bigotry going on here. The fact is that the entity that is Canada was STARTED in 1608 by French settlers, which is why we have TWO founding nations, and it happened there simply because of their geographical location on the St. Lawrence river. So somehow blaming them for that is just stupid.
Bill 21 is about secularism in public life, a.k.a. the separation of church and state, and as a province very much dominated by the bullying Catholic church for centuries, I would suggest that they know whereof they speak! It's been a long haul, and they have now finally even removed the cross from their legislature that caused valid accusations of hypocrisy. In light of the recently, freshly exposed horrors of what the Catholic church has perpetrated while furthering their cruel and absurdly unnatural doctrine, not to even mention the whole "Spotlight" debacle that is ongoing, why are we not applauding this major pushback. Quebec doesn't even fund Catholic public schools anymore, like we weirdly still do here, even though the interchangeability of the French fact with Catholicism is what STARTED that. Saskatchewan still does, as does Ontario somehow; we're the three holdouts in the country. That policy is an example of secularism as well, and is now generally seen as sensible. (Don't pray in my school and I won't think in your church.) So removing religion from public life, i.e. the state, is a reasonable direction to go.
The religion of Islam has become the issue with Bill 21 though because no religion is as avid or flies so many flags, but despite the disturbingly defensive depth of indoctrination that insists on such constant announcements and visible affirmations of its subject's "beliefs," Islam is still just another religion, i.e. a set of ideas. NO ideas are immutable, but "race" is immutable.
So calling Bill 21 "racist" is fundamentally incorrect. Religion is not race. The closest word for eschewing the concept of religion altogether is not "racist." It's "atheist."
Personally, I'm pleased to finally see pushback on religion, period, as it creeps ever deeper into public life as in Alberta where the UCP are mainly composed of arrogant evangelicals who occupy an alternate reality with the alternate authority of a god. It's insane, and goes a long way to explaining what's happening in the almost theocratic U.S.

Here is a carefully reasoned fact based analysis that is helpful in regard to Bill 21. I recommend it to Max Fawcett.
https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/august-2021/why-the-supreme-cou...

I am reminded of the tagline of the "No" committee in the 1995 referendum "Mon Canada comprend le Québec", playing on the two meanings of "comprend", to understand or to include. Apparently, that understanding eludes English Canada.
Québec emerged from the dark ages of a Catholic theocracy when populist premier Maurice Duplessis died suddenly in 1959. Since then, Québec society has largely embraced a secular world view. The law affirming the laicity of the state is just another chapter in that story. There was little outcry when nuns teaching in schools lost their wimples and priests their collars and cassocks.
Meanwhile, our coins proclaim "By the grace of God, Queen" (Dei Gratia Regina). It's no surprise to me that politicians in Alberta, a province with a long history of barely separated church and state (recall premier "Bible Bill" Aberhart who had a regular Bible radio broadcast, followed by his protégé Ernest Manning) ​now stand squarely against this affirmation of a secular state.
In Ontario, former premier Kathleen Wynne's marital status would disqualify her from teaching in the publicly funded Catholic school system. Did provinces, NGOs and municipalities mobilize against state funded Catholic anti-gay discrimination?
Québec has made its choice between laicity and religiosity. It seems that English Canada has also made its choice but, unlike Québec, with a lack of self awareness.

Precisely so, the lack of self awareness, which maybe explains what I perceive to be a much richer culture in Quebec. I do find it remarkable that Catholicism seems to have so easily been dispatched like that; oh that they could market that! I assume that was a result of its inextricable links with political power at the time?
So here we have this true revolution that happened right here in Canada, one that actually achieved more freedom in the good way that we used to perceive it before it became "freedumb" and yet have consistently sold it short. So the feature that distinguishes this country internationally, very much contributing to our good reputation goes unrecognized by the plodding conservatives among us. They're the real threat to the country with their characteristic dearth of imagination.
I suspect that the main impetus behind this criticism of Bill 21 is the fear of being labelled Islamophobic, or racist, the current both incorrect and overused labels.

Where to start? Quebec literally bristles with Christian symbols . They are so ubiquitous here as to be invisible to most of us.. there are crosses on most public buildings and saints and holy mothers literally everywhere - from street names to place names to chicken dinners. And in my books it’s all wonderful. And I am a secularist and an atheist. But when the christian majority turns their electron microscope on this tiny terrifying speck - a muslim headscarf worn by a woman as though it’s some kind of religious virus poised to infect society, all I can say is give me a break, is this really about secularism, or is it about something else? Is this about stomping on someone with less power than you? Is this about as a white man feeling smug and superior and glibly denying someone who you feel is inferior to you the chance to fulfill their dreams and contribute to her community and her country as an equal? I don’t know. But I think you may wish to think of how you’d feel if you were denied the career of your dreams because of your beliefs.

Two wrongs never makes a right and the ends never justify the means.

I love Quebec, but living here I see the hurt Bill 21 is causing many friends and neighbours . Quebeckers have big, kind hearts. We’re all bigger than this small-minded bill. Secularism should be about equality and human rights and about lifting everyone up to live their best lives and building a better society together. Bill 21 as it written does none of that. Instead it justifies othering. And it causes pain.

Yup, time to take religion out of politics.

Tax the churches.

Proportional representation solves regional power issues, which includes the rural power of churches.

Stop pretending that religious beliefs don't influence political decisions.