Just five and a half hours away by car from our offices in Teaneck, the Jewish community of Montreal is uneasy about its future. It has been worrying since 1976, when the xenophobic center-left separatist Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois first came to power. (The PQ now is a minority party.)
The PQ has proposed a “Charter of Quebec Values” that takes aim, among other things, at the wearing of religious head coverings, including kippot. The pÃ©quistes, as party loyalists are called, would prohibit all civil employees and medical personnel from wearing the banned head coverings while at work.
This is only the latest manifestation of the problem. Since 1976, as many as 40,000 Jews left Quebec because of their unease over the PQ’s anti-minority tendencies; some of these Quebec ex-pats now live in northern New Jersey. Montreal itself lost nearly one-fourth of its Jewish population in the 10 years between 1991, when its Jewish population peaked, and 2001.
The PQ now is fielding a candidate named Tania Longpre in a special election for a parliamentary seat in a Montreal neighborhood. Ms. Longpre recently came under fire for positions she expressed in 2011 favoring a ban on ritual circumcision and removing the word “Jewish” from Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital because it receives provincial funding. She insists she no longer holds either position, but that the PQ would choose someone who held such views in the past is disturbing.
The “values” measure now is before Quebec’s parliament. Montreal Jewish General Hospital has said it will defy the head coverings ban if it does pass, and the Jewish community has joined with Muslims and Sikhs in opposing it. It is doubtful that the PQ can muster enough votes to win the measure’s passage this time around, but that is not very comforting to the Jews of Quebec, to the Montreal ex-pats living in our area, or to us.