Opinion: Quebec can ill afford to isolate itself from the real world

More than ever, investment has a choice — and the choices beyond this province are as welcoming as they are numerous.

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The CAQ government is steadily creating a cocoon of autocratic insularity around itself. Edicts and decisions are too often issued peremptorily and absent of prior consultation and justification. Contrary opinions and advice are summarily dismissed and panned, and if our fundamental rights become a hurdle in the way, the notwithstanding clause is casually applied and renewed to ward off court challenges.

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The university fiasco and its sequel are a clear case in point. Out of the blue landed the unprovoked and arbitrary imposition of an excessive tuition fee increase for non-Quebec students attending our three English-language universities. The immediate reaction led to the broadest consensus of disapproval from a wide range of public opinion leaders and experts.

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Eventually, the government referred the question to its own Comité consultatif sur l’accessibilité financière aux études for a recommendation. The committee was given the near-impossible deadline of one month, in the midst of year-end holidays. To its immense credit, the committee completed its report within a few days’ delay and urged the government to reconsider its decision, which it qualified as seeming unjustified, while having a negative impact on quality education and the access to potential talent.

Conveniently flighty and pathetic was the government’s reaction in rejecting the report because it had been filed four days late! Observation: Be quite sure the report would have been praised and touted loudly and often by the premier and his minister of higher education had the conclusions favoured the government’s decision.

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The decision to reject the report led the mayor of Montreal to forthrightly denounce the artificial reason for its disregard, and to reiterate her opposition to the university fiat as an “attack on Montreal.” Out came an offended premier, brandishing the inevitable verbal weapon: Valérie Plante — irony of ironies — does not care about the protection of French! I leave you to ponder the scornful inanity of the comment.

Meanwhile, the minister of the French language is busy using his significant salary (plus 30 per cent) producing little drawings which he recently unveiled at a press conference, so that no longer will global brand names be allowed to stand alone. And he has promised more rules to follow. How grateful should we be!

And a short time ago, the premier confided that as he gazes out of the window of his Montreal office, he suffers a visual malaise in seeing so much Englishness unfolding  before him around McGill and its campus — which, by the way, have occupied the historic site for only 175 years. Observation: It would be simpler and far less expensive to move the premier’s office back to the Hydro-Québec building, to shelter his delicate eyes from the visual pollution of the Roddick Gates.

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In our present world of instant and omnipresent communications, the impracticality, pettiness and regressiveness of our government’s legislation, rules and edicts resonate not only within our borders, but well beyond. The extreme measures in Bill 96, and ill-advised decisions like the university hikes, the new stricter rules applying to non-Quebec students in English schools, and the recent ones about brands and trade names, are all attracting widespread attention.

The time is well past when we could isolate ourselves from the real world. Investment, not only in economic terms, but even more importantly in brains, has a choice — and in an intensely competitive world, the choices beyond Quebec are as welcoming as they are numerous.

After a long and tedious winter, we all earnestly await the return of spring and its refreshing breezes. How invigorating as well would it be to be able to open our political doors and windows to the fresh air of open mindedness, and of confidence in ourselves for a positive future of mutual trust and understanding. Yes, it is high time for us to open ourselves to the world at large and the richness of its global diversity.

Clifford Lincoln resigned from the Quebec cabinet in 1988 over the use of the notwithstanding clause in Bill 178. He later served as a federal MP. He lives in Baie-D’Urfé.

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