Reasonable accommodations, free parking

Marty’s post on the Bouchard-Taylor leak fiasco got me thinking, yet again, about what a peculiar beast the Bouchard-Taylor “commission” on reasonable accommodations is. Was. Uh, still is, until tomorrow’s news conference.

It’s still not entirely clear what Jean Charest was trying to accomplish by naming this commission. My very strong hunch is that he wanted to kick a nasty debate forward past the then-looming election and deal with the mess later. If his goals were as modest as that, it seems to have worked. If he was actually seeking wisdom on the proper saw-off between the standards of the metropolitan community and the immigrant communities (plural), well, he seems to have gone about it in odd ways.

I’ve never been entirely certain, for instance, why a commission on recent trends in immigration, and essentially Muslim immigration, should comprise a Scot past retirement age and a Saguenéen not much younger. It’s a defensible choice. You could argue, for instance, that the adjustments, if any, need to be made by Quebecers who have been around a long time, so it’s up to them to talk among themselves.  Ken Whyte used a similar rationale in 1995 when he had Andrew Coyne and David Frum debate gay marriage in the pages of Saturday Night. I asked Ken why it had to be two conservative straight guys. Ken said: “Because that’s the group that’s going to have to decide, eventually.” And indeed it was so, a decade later.

Still, a panel on diversity chaired by Statler and Waldorf seemed a bit odd. The funny thing now, given how its report is being pre-reviewed as an arch-federalist sellout of Real Québécois Values, is that in the early going it seemed that Bouchard, a committed sovereignist whose brother was in the headlines fairly often a decade ago, would lead the discussion. Don Macpherson in The Gazette, using a fair reading of some early Bouchard interviews, was certain the commissioner would insist the only way forward for a diverse Quebec was through the sovereignty door. (Here’s another good Macpherson column about how messy things got once Bouchard and Taylor actually started inviting people to talk to them.)

Most of all, I still don’t see how any two people can give advice that’s likely to be followed on such a complex morass of issues as this. (And by “this,” of course I mean, “this bunch of things I can’t even define comprehensibly.”) Charles Taylor says I should be more open to newcomers? Gérard Bouchard would like the term “Québécois de souche” replaced by “Québécois d’origine canadienne-française?” Sure, whatever, have a nice day, gents.

Which is not to say the report will be inconsequential. It will probably be an engaging read — Taylor and Bouchard are scholars of rare accomplishment. It’s just not clear how any report will move public perceptions, especially since it’s being pre-emptively dismissed by the two opposition parties in a minority legislature.

There is, finally, this thread sticking out: Bouchard and Taylor are said to have problems with the definition of the term Québécois. It is a word that appears in both the English and French versions of the motion on the nationhood of les Québécois that Stephen Harper had Parliament pass at the end of 2006. Would a debate over Quebec identity provide surprises during a federal election campaign? Oh, maybe.

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