Herouxville went ADQ in Monday’s election. After voting Liberal in the previous election, the Mauricie backwoods village that put itself on the globe by warning prospective immigrants that it does not tolerate the burning of women swung to Mario Dumont’s Action democratique du Quebec on Monday.
So did a lot of Herouxvilles across Quebec, urban neighbourhoods and suburbs off the island of Montreal as well as rural villages, on what was a pretty big day for xenophobia.
The fear of others wasn’t the only reason why the ADQ went from five seats in the last legislature to 41 and official-opposition status in the next. There were other reasons to vote Action democratique, and not all 1.2 million Quebecers who voted ADQ felt threatened because a week before the election a sugar shack removed the pork from the traditional Quebecois fare it served some Muslim clients.
But anybody who just doesn’t like Muslims, or Jews or Sikhs or immigrants, knew which was the most compatible party for which to vote - or to run as a candidate - in this election. Among the "Montreal values" rejected in what my friend Michel David of Le Devoir has dubbed "le RDQ"- for "le reste du Quebec"- was inclusiveness.
Action democratique was a dying party until last Nov. 17, the day Le Journal de Montreal splashed Dumont across its front page saying the "reasonable accommodation" of non-Christian religious customs "n’a plus de bon sens"- has got out of hand.
For Dumont, it seemed, no such accommodation was reasonable, and every one was a threat not only to Quebec’s values but its identity. And if some people interpreted that as a coded message of hostility toward ethnic minorities, Dumont did little to discourage them from supporting him. He was a still boyish version of the George Wallace who ran for president of the United States as a third-party candidate in the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Once the official campaign was under way, Dumont rarely mentioned "reasonable accommodation." But by then he no longer needed to ; the message had got across.
In the excitement over Dumont’s breakthrough, an earlier victory for xenophobia in this election has been forgotten.
On the Friday afternoon before the election, the province’s chief electoral officer, Marcel Blanchet, capitulated to intimidation and denied Muslim women their legal right to vote with their faces veiled as required by their interpretation of their religion.
It was not, he explained, that his original interpretation of the Election Act, to the effect that the women could identify themselves without showing their faces, was wrong. On the contrary, Section 335.2 of the act allows them to vote if someone else who does meet the usual identification requirements vouches for their identities.
Rather, Blanchet said, he was exercising his authority to overrule the law to ensure the "serenity" of the election, since he had received threats to disrupt the voting (as well as to his own life) in protest against his original decision.
Blanchet could have served notice that if anyone attempted to disrupt voting, police would be called to remove would-be troublemakers from the polling station and if necessary arrest him. Instead, he chose to violate his mandate.
The chief electoral officer, it says on his website, is responsible for "guaranteeing the free exercise of the right to vote of Quebec electors." Note that it doesn’t say "most Quebec electors, except for minorities, if somebody threatens to disrupt the serenity of the voting if they try to exercise that right." He’s supposed to guarantee the right to vote of every single elector, including one whose interpretation of her religion requires her to vote with her face covered, for whom the legislator has made provisions.
The Journal de Montreal, which had done much to whip up hysteria over this and previous "accommodations" (most of them quite reasonable, in fact) crowed that "the public" had forced the chief electoral officer to back down. Actually, it was more like a mob of emailers.
Monday was a good day for xenophobia. For democracy, not so much.