The rather rational Liberal response to the PQ's Charter of Values has gone virtually unnoticed because the party is now struggling to communicate with Quebecers (heading into an election where the PQ could get a majority, this is terrifying); the departure of longtime MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin overshadowed what could have otherwise been a valuable addition to the discourse on the Charter.
The thing about Fatima Houda-Pépin is that she is both a victim of herself and of a Canadian-style form of governance that is broken.
I say she is her own worst enemy with affection. As a fellow political eccentric, I can appreciate her eccentricities and her frankness. She doesn't have a "langue de bois" like most politicians. In criticizing her now-former party, she was both simultaneously right and wrong.
On principle, she may have been right: Not EVERYTHING in the PQ's Charter should go straight to the waste bin. A ban of face-coverings in the public sector, for example, is completely reasonable in an open, transparent society. In the end, the Liberals ended up taking her suggestion to ban the chador, which covers a bit of the face.
Houda-Pépin erred in speaking out publicly against her party's position, before the party even released their position. In times of crisis - yes, this is a cultural crisis - it's important to develop clear positions, pick teams and go to war on a plan which would seriously hurt Quebec's credibility (and economy) for years to come. Once the Charter is (hopefully) defeated, as was the regressve Bill 14 language law update, then we can tackle the integration issue properly, with due diligence. But now is most certainly not the time to split hairs over how much fabric should cover a hypothetical Muslim public employee's forehead. She undermined her party's efforts, her leader's credibility (which was shaky to begin with) and she gave a small boost to pro-Charter forces; these are things that Fatima Houda-Pépin is guilty of.
However, if our democracy functioned optimally, people like Houda-Pépin wouldn't be shunned, but rewarded for contributing constructively to the discourse (as a Muslim woman from Morocco, clearly her views on immigrant integration are relevant). As someone who is half Moroccan, I can probably relate to Houda-Pépin's argumentative nature. Let's not forget that arguing is often constructive; consensus tends not to be. In some parts of the world, every vote is a - gasp! - free vote. It's OK for partisans (I am not one) to steer discourse in one general direction. It's not OK to continue this consensus charade.
Our parliamentary democracy is just not equipped to handle dissent; it's so nauseatingly Canadian. We're too busy being polite and holding the door for each other while the house burns down.
What's next for Houda-Pépin, independent? Hopefully an effort to use her predicament to further a more open, argumentative parliamentary democracy.
For more on democratic reform, check out Conservative MP Michael Chong's proposal to give less power to our leaders and more power to our elected representatives.