Parallels of Opposition: Madeleine Parent and Charlottetown

When considering the abstraction of a historical character’s political values and motivations towards a scenario, the question posed is essentially an exercise in the counterfactual. To be successful in a comparison, one must best define that person’s likely course of action through the use of viable case studies. Madeline Parent’s activism, while defined in its early stages through her advocacy for unions and particularly their Canadianization, becomes much broader and further defined on a multitude of issues following her retirement in 1983.(1) In seeking an answer to our question – whether Madeline Parent would have supported the controversial Charte de valeurs québecoises – an ideal case study presents itself in Parent’s opposition to the adoption of the Charlottetown Accord. The debate surrounding the Charlottetown Accord is quite significant, as it strikes at a dispute over the fundamental values of Canadian society as they would be enshrined in the country’s constitution. As such, there is great historical significance provided by Parent’s opposition to Charlottetown. In this analysis, we assess Parent’s involvement as a founding member and supporter of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and its opposition to the Charlottetown Accord on the bases of multiculturalism, Quebecois society, and individual and group rights. This analysis sufficiently provides evidence that Parent would, in viewing the Charte de valeurs québecoises, not openly support its adoption for similar reasons that she opposed Charlottetown.

One of the primary vehicles for examining the political views of Madeline Parent in the period contemporary to the Charlottetown Accord was the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). Madeline Parent was not just an ardent member, but one of the NAC’s founders. The NAC served as a coalition of numerous feminist, progressive, and gay and lesbian rights activists groups from across Canada. Insofar as representation was concerned, Parent’s influence on the movement was described as “immense,” by Alexa Conradi as the President of the Quebec Women’s Federation.(2) Despite not holding an executive position within the NAC, Parent’s influence on the ideology of the body is reflected by its political campaigns and the message that it put out against the adoption of the Charlottetown Accord. In viewing the nature of this opposition, the prevalent political ideology that emerges is one that could not have supported the Charte, and would not have been easily reconciled by Parent in the event that she had supported it, forcing a conclusion to the contrary.

Of the issues at stake in the Charlottetown Accords, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women took a hard stance against the overall weakening of the powers of the federal government and the subsequent transfer of those powers to the provincial governments. Particularly at risk in the eyes of the NAC was the effect of decentralization on the future of immigration policy within Canada. The proposals of the Charlottetown Accord had denotations of increased provincial control over immigration.(3) For the NAC, this constituted an unacceptable “constitutionalization of the federal-provincial relations of culture and immigration.”(4) In addition to allowing the federal government to take a step back from providing a unifying national policy on immigration, more radical provincial parties based in regional hegemony could conceivably further racist agendas through the imposition of policies that were “more rigid concerning race, immigration, class and culture.”(5) The two primary issues that the NAC feared motivating and also resulting from such policy were the fear of immigrants draining the funds of social welfare programs (which would be further controlled by the provinces), and the pursuit of “occidental” societies by those same provincial governments.(6)

These concerns were also initially portrayed by the NAC in a briefing made to the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on the 1987 Constitutional Accord. The statement explicitly addressed the dangers of allowing provincial leaders to prioritize homogeneity vis-à-vis restrictive immigration policy. According to the NAC:

[T]he federal government, or any provincial government so empowered by the immigration sectors of the accord could decide that its duty to preserve the French-and-English-speaking character of Canada requires it to restrict the growth of non-French-or-English-speaking groups in its territory.(7)

Moreover, as power over social programs became more decentralized, so would the ability for provincial government to leverage policy against racial and/or ethnic minorities. What is significant about the NAC’s viewing of these threats is that it reveals an aversion to the arguments of social cohesion and homogeneity advanced by the Charte des valeurs. Instead, the NAC takes a minority rights-centric approach. Concurrently, this attitude would run against the ideals of the Charte, which has been criticized for violating standards of human rights.(8)

That the NAC and Madeline Parent would further disapprove of the Charte de valeurs is further made clear in the way they addressed the “distinct society” clause of the Charlottetown Accords pertaining to Quebec. This approach lays out rationale for accepting the presence of the distinct society clause, which the NAC felt to be of importance. In this case, the reasoning applied reveals an implicit but firm acceptance of a multicultural policy. The NAC stated that the distinct society clause was formulated in the same way as Clause 27 of the current Charter of Rights and Freedoms.(9) What this conveys is not just support for a distinct society in Quebec, but a further implication that such a clause would not conflict with multiculturalist interpretation. This legitimates and provides support for a multiculturalist point of view. This is pointedly different than the integrationist stance on culture that has been adopted and propagated by institutional supporters of the Charte des valeurs, by which individuals and minorities are expected to – to a greater extent – assimilate into dominant culture. However, by ranking Quebec as a distinct society as a concern alongside multiculturalism, language rights of minorities, and women’s rights, the NAC serves to legitimate these causes further, and not displace them within a hierarchy of rights.(10)

Ultimately for the NAC, the critical point of contention is the potential loss of rights for individuals and disadvantaged groups, particularly minorities. In a bulletin released in October, 1992, entitled “NAC Says No to this Constitutional Deal Because…” the NAC lists these issues as primary points of contention. Namely, the Charlottetown Accord was accused of “claw[ing] back rights won by women and minorities in the 1982 constitution.”(11) The major fear was of a potential rights rollback in the event the constitution was reopened. In the case of minorities, the agreement specifically “strengthen[ed] the rights of governments at the expense of the rights of individuals and disadvantaged groups,” while providing only “weak acknowledgement of equality rights for women and racial minorities.”(12) Ultimately, the NAC not only took a stance against the Charlottetown accords out of concern for women’s rights, but further found within the Accord cause to resist it on grounds of multiculturalism and equality for minorities. These qualities under further examination would have transposed into resistance against the Charte des valeurs.

Where do Madeline Parent’s views fit within the grander context of the arguments of the National Action Committee? Parent’s priorities within the NAC were admittedly more focused on the advancement of feminism, but this would not have precluded minority rights advocacy.(13) In an open letter, friends and associates of Madeline Parent criticized her association with the Charte as unjustified and promoting discrimination, further adding that:

The idea, for example, that a highly competent and skilled woman could lose her job in the public service because she wears a hijab, would have horrified our friend. Indeed, Madeleine fought ardently alongside these same women so that their full rights as intelligent, worthy and competent citizens could be recognized.(14)

In accordance with the statement that her posthumous sponsorship of the Charte as unjustified, Parent indeed would not have supported the endeavour for the same rationale applied by the NAC in opposing the Charlottetown Accord. In Parent’s personal notes regarding the referendum on Charlottetown, although she was far from satisfied with the 1982 constitution and the rights it provided for women, it was far better than the rollback of rights that would conceivably occur under Charlottetown.(15) Moreover, the largest objection of Parent was that the Accord would create a “hierarchy of rights,” reflected by the fact that government rights would be made inherently superior to those of Canadians.(16) This would accordingly “downgrade racial and ethnic equality… and respect for individual & collective human rights & freedoms of all people” (emphasis Parent).(17) In viewing these personal notes, there is a clear concordance with the views and argumentation of the NAC against the Charlottetown Accord. Using the same rationale against a hierarchy of rights, one can reasonably expect Madeline Parent to have opposed the Charte de valeurs as well.

Ultimately, in viewing both the contextual and primary source evidence surrounding Madeline Parent and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, there is definitive evidence in the NAC and Parent’s opposition to the Charlottetown Accord that further suggests likely opposition to the Charte de valeurs québecoises. On account of Parent’s support of equality for minorities, the NAC’s position on immigration policy, and Parent’s dislike for the creation of a rights hierarchy, a standard reading of the Charte would find these elements present, and justify Parent’s opposition to it.

__________

Footnotes:

1.“Madeline Parent,” Library and Archives Canada, http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1112-e.html (accessed April 3, 2014).

2.  “Quebec Labour Leader Madeline Parent Dies,” CBC News,  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-labour-leader-madeleine-parent-dies-1.1162485 (accessed April 3, 2014).

3. “Réponse du CCA aux prepositions constitutionelles, Oct 30, 1991” McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union) [2009-0074.01.661].

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. “Réponse du CCA aux prepositions constitutionelles, Oct 30, 1991.”

7.  “Brief on the 1987 Constitutional Accord by the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, August 26, 1987.” McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union) [2009-0074.01.661].

8.  “Mulcair Denounces Quebec Charter,” Global News, http://globalnews.ca/news/831100/ndps-mulcair-denounces-quebec-charter/ (accessed April 3, 2014).

9. “Réponse du CCA aux prepositions constitutionelles, Oct 30, 1991.”

10. Ibid.

11. “NAC Says No to this Constitutional Deal Because…, Oct, 1992.” McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union) [2009-0074.01.661].

12. Ibid.

13. “Quebec Labour Leader Madeline Parent Dies,” CBC News.

14.  “Letter: Madeleine Parent would not have wanted her name associated with the values charter.” The Montreal Gazette, http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Letter+Madeleine+Parent+would+have+wanted+name+associated+with+values+charter/9137344/story.html (accessed April 3, 2014).

15.  Untitled notes. McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union). [2009-0074.01.661].

16.  Untitled notes. McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union). [2009-0074.01.661].

17. Ibid.

Works Cited:

“Brief on the 1987 Constitutional Accord by the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, August 26, 1987.” McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union) [2009-0074.01.661].

This document is a record of the presentation made to the Parliamentary committee holding hearings on the Charlottetown accord. Again, the NAC fiercely opposed the Accord, primarily for the risks it poses towards women’s rights and the possibility of racist overhauls of immigration systems by Provinces should the system be decentralized.

“Letter: Madeleine Parent would not have wanted her name associated with the values charter.” The Montreal Gazette, http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Letter+Madeleine+Parent+would+have+wanted+name+associated+with+values+charter/9137344/story.html (accessed April 3, 2014).

This article argues heavily that Madeline Parent would not have supported the Charte de valeurs québecoises on the account that her values were vastly different than what was proposed. The open letter addresses the use of Madeline Parent’s name being used to support and justify the Charter, and further contains the signatures of multitudes of close friends, family members, political companions, and coworkers. There is further use in this article insofar as it provides insight into the contemporary debate over Madeline Parent’s opinion of the Charte.

“Madeline Parent,” Library and Archives Canada, http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1112-e.html (accessed April 3, 2014).

This is an archived biographical page that provides an overview of Madeline Parent’s career. As a government source, it presents a neutral representation. Thus it seeks to focus on Parent’s major accomplishments and provide a general picture of what she stood for. Details covered include Parent’s union activism and her foundational role in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

“Mulcair Denounces Quebec Charter,” Global News, http://globalnews.ca/news/831100/ndps-mulcair-denounces-quebec-charter/ (accessed April 3, 2014).

This news article provides a detailing of the public rejection of the Charte de valeurs québecoises by NDP and Official Opposition Leader, Thomas Mulcair. He makes an overt and specific appeal to human rights in his approach, and widely condemns the Charte as a political move that would downgrade the rights of certain Quebeckers within the province. This article is significant for providing a contemporary reference to human rights on the issue of the Charte, and it further provides insight into some of the public opinion on it.

“NAC Says No to this Constitutional Deal Because…, Oct, 1992.” McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union) [2009-0074.01.661].

This document is a bulletin for public distribution that attempts to inform the public about why the NAC is not supporting the Charlottetown Accord. It focuses on a multitude of issues, of which those of most concern are minority rights and the rights of women, although all are argued for equally.

“Quebec Labour Leader Madeline Parent Dies,” CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-labour-leader-madeleine-parent-dies-1.1162485 (accessed April 3, 2014).

This news article serves as an obituary, remembering the greater accomplishments of Madeline Parent’s life, particularly her work organizing textile workers in the 1940s. Her post-retirement accomplishments, including her founding of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, are detailed in what serves to be a general overview of Parent’s successes.

“Réponse du CCA aux prepositions constitutionelles, Oct 30, 1991” McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union) [2009-0074.01.661].

This document is a French policy paper intended for distribution that outlines the policy stance of the NAC against the Charlottetown Accord. The document provides an in depth breakdown of the concerns and opportunities in each section. Of most interest to this study are the sections on Quebec as a distinct society, immigration and social programs, and multiculturalism and the constitution.

Untitled notes. McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union). [2009-0074.01.661].

These untitled notes focus on the possible outcomes of the referendum, and appear to be part of Parent’s thought process regarding what the best outcome is for her movement and the NAC. They provide a unique insight into her opinion on the overall status of women’s rights in Canada.

Untitled notes. McGill University Archives, Madeline Parent (Post-Union). [2009-0074.01.661].

These notes break down Parent’s specific rationale behind her opposition to the Charlottetown Accord. More specifically, it appears as though she is attempting to derive some logic or slogan to be used in the “No” campaign against the Accord.

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