A lot has been written lately about the proposed Secular Values Charter that has been handed down from on high by the Marois péquiste government, and most of it - at least on the English Canadian side - has been negative. It is indeed a sordid piece of crap that shouldn't see the light of day in a multi-lingual, multi-faith, multi-cultural country like Canada, but if you can say anything about Pauline Marois, its that she is a calculating politician, something also written of heavily in the media these days. Polling evidence both for and against the policy is out, though I would note that when asked directly on the subject, it seems Québécois are pretty supportive of it, even if they aren't as keen on the péquistes themselves.
However, its very probable that the Charter will never see the light of day, and certainly it isn't going to cause a provincial election - that'll happen next budget season. For all the huffing and puffing from PLQ Leader Philippe Couillard, it isn't likely that he'll direct his party to take down the minority government over what is, in essence, a side issue created by a government that seems really afraid of its own record. That would just make it seem like a legitimate issue.
But there is going to be an election in Québec, and fairly soon at that. The federal seat of Bourassa, vacated by former Liberal MP turned Montréal mayoralty candidate Denis Coderre, will need to have a by-election called by January 2014, though it will probably be called much sooner if Alice Funke is correct in her divination.
As I mentioned before in my profile of Bourassa, the riding is fairly polarized between francophone and allophone communities, that is to say, non-immigrants and immigrants. According to the 2006 Census, 32% of the riding's population were the recently immigrated, up from 2001, and certainly by now also up. A much higher 40% of the riding, according again to the 2006 Census, spoke non-official languages as their mother tongue, compared to 56% French, numbers I also expect to be up by 2013. This division between the francophone and allophone communities has played out in Bourassa fairly obviously, allowing the PCs and Bloc to squeak by some wins in '88 and '93, and allowing the NDP to post an impressive result in 2011,with the Liberals still keeping ahead thanks to their strong base among many allophone communities.
On the basis of this division, Bourassa could prove to be an interesting testing ground for the favourability of Marois' Values Charter among both communities.
While there is the obvious caveats that provincial politics doesn't necessarily translate to federal politics; that by-elections could be fought over any issue, local or national, and are fairly unpredictable; and the more specific caveat that Bourassa's allophone communities are mostly Christian, not Muslim, Sikh, or Jewish, I do think the riding could become a battleground for the Charter still. A battle which may even force some of the federal parties to possible walk back their (so far) vocal opposition to the Charter.
Think about it. While minority religions don't make up a huge part of the electorate (the second largest group after Catholics, who make up 79%, are Protestants, then the non-religious, then Muslims at just below 4%, according to the 2006 Census numbers), allophone communities do, and many of them are probably not going to welcome the idea of discrimination by the francophone majority, even if its just a far-off possibility - it isn't as if the Charter is great in proving the sovereigntist's bonafides in the realm of tolerance. But would allophone opposition to it be enough motivation to possibly counteract francophone acceptance of the Charter? Or would Bourassa's particular types of allophone communities be OK with it, thus providing Marois some cover?
How would a race fought over such an issue affect the positions of the competitors as well? Remember, the NDP and Bloc's biggest cores are among francophones (though the NDP have a lot more cross appeal than the Bloc), while the Liberals are more popular among the allophone communities. The reactions to the Charter among these electorates could easily change how vocal Mulcair or Trudeau are against the Charter, or Paillé's support for it.
And don't think it couldn't happen. By-elections, as I noted, can be fought on anything. The absence of a strong government option in Bourassa only increases the chances that a side issue will come to the forefront, whether that is the personalities of the two opposition leaders, or what the Charter says about Québec society. That may not be a fight anyone wants, but in the end it could be one that needs to happen. Bourassa could possibly be the first battleground.