MONTREAL (Apr. 15)
Quebec Jews are breathing a collective sigh of relief with the defeat of the Parti Quebecois following nine years of the separatist party’s rule.
The Liberal Party swept Monday’s provincial election in a landslide, taking 76 seats to the Parti Quebecois’s 45, with the Action Democratique du Quebec party taking the remaining four.
Canadian Jews tend to support the Liberals, who they believe are more supportive of ethnic rights and more appreciative of the Jewish community’s role in building Quebec economically.
Liberal leader Jean Charest, a lawyer who was raised in a bilingual household, has many friends in the Jewish community.
In contrast, the community has had a problematic relationship with the Parti Quebecois. After a referendum on Quebec independence was defeated in 1995, party leader and provincial premier Jacques Parizeau blamed “ethnics and the money vote,” which was seen as a particular slap at the Jewish community.
Parizeau resigned the next day. His successor, Lucien Bouchard, resigned two years ago after an incident where a PQ political candidate cast doubts on the Holocaust and claimed that Jews were always whining about their lot in life.
Institutionally, however, the Jewish community has learned to adapt to whichever party has been in power, even the PQ, according to the two major Jewish organizations in Canada.
“B’nai Brith Canada has always sought, and generally succeeded in developing, good working relationships with all political parties in Canada,” said Joseph Ben Ami, the group’s national communications director. “The Quebec Liberal Party is no exception to this. I knew Mr. Charest when he was in Ottawa and was always impressed by his passion for Canada and determination to do the right thing.”
Regarding the PQ’s record on Jews and other minorities, Ben Ami said a certain negative perception may have been valid.
“There were certainly some incidents where public figures associated with the PQ made unfortunate derogatory remarks concerning Jews and other ethnic groups, but I think these were, for the most part, isolated incidents,” he said.
He added, however, “To the extent that the relationship between Quebec’s ethnic communities and the PQ were harmed by these incidents, there is some healing to do. There are some outstanding and unique concerns that I think the Jewish community has that will need to be addressed.” He named, for example, anti-Semitism on Canadian college campuses.
“It remains to be seen whether the new government will be more or less responsive to these specific issues than the previous one,” Ben Ami said. “Only time will tell.”
Joseph Gabay, chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region, praised the way that Bernard Landry, the PQ leader and Quebec premier, had handled Jewish concerns.
“He has always had our welfare at heart,” Gabay said. “After Sept. 11 he called me personally, gave me his cell- phone number and offered his assistance to the Jewish community whenever we needed it.”
Gabay said the community was most concerned about the way the new government would handle issues of anti-Semitism, education and health care.
“Mr. Charest made it clear that improving the Quebec health-care system is his priority, which we see as a very good thing,” Gabay said. “We hope his leadership will also result in his government closing the gap in funding between the public school system at large and the Jewish private-school system. And I expect that he will continue to denounce anti-Semitism, as well as any type of racism and the exclusion of minorities.”