Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Standing up to intolerance

The remainder of that Globe editorial, sent along by a helpful reader, focusses on the initial Liberal bandwagon hopping that occurred in the run up to the Quebec by-elections on the veil issue. That was no profile in courage. However, the Liberals are reconsidering their position and seem to be getting on the doing-the-right-thing track. This is to be commended. The ugliness we've witnessed warrants all parties reconsidering their positions on this "phantom" issue, as well put by the Globe. We don't need this kind of pandering to fear in Canada. The rest:
In fact, this entire controversy appears to have been manufactured to pander to fears of Islam. But it was not just Mr. Harper's Conservatives who were guilty. When the Prime Minister claimed that Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was "defying the will of Parliament" by permitting veiled women to vote, even though Mr. Mayrand was correctly interpreting federal legislation, the Liberals backed Mr. Harper up. "We do believe that when they are casting a vote in elections, Canadian citizens have a responsibility to fully reveal their identities," Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said, calling for "Elections Canada to reconsider its decision and to require veiled women to unveil their faces to confirm their identities."

In October, when legislation was introduced that would require all voters to uncover their faces when voting - even though it would still be possible to vote in person without photo ID or from afar without any ID at all - the Liberals hopped on board again. "I think that people showing their faces for identification purposes to vote is fine," said Marlene Jennings, the party's justice critic, indicating that the Liberals would likely support the legislation and again criticizing Mr. Mayrand for his "unilateral decision."

Now, more than two months after the issue arose, the Liberals appear to have discovered some backbone. While they have yet to confirm it, they seem increasingly likely to vote against the new law. Last week, Mr. Dion said the Conservatives' legislation "misses its target." One of his MPs, Brian Murphy, was more pointed, calling it "a knee-jerk reaction, politically targeted, for no good reason but politics."

Mr. Murphy might as well have been speaking about his own party, as one of his caucus colleagues acknowledged. "I think that what's happened is that we responded a bit hastily, frankly, to the situation we were in on the eve of the Quebec by-elections," Liberal MP John Godfrey said last week. "I think that with reflection, we should've behaved differently and I think we have to admit that."

The Liberals appear to have judged - perhaps in light of the negative reaction to the "reasonable accommodation" hearings in Quebec - that there is some political advantage to be found in standing up to intolerance. Better late than never, one supposes. If the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois - the most fervent anti-veil party - would similarly reconsider, the country could move on to more important matters. (emphasis added)