The Métropolitain

Drainville's deceit

Par Beryl Wajsman le 3 d├ęcembre 2013

Minister for Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville's last minute decision to pull out of a debate on Bill 60, the "Values" Charter, at Concordia University last week due to "security concerns" was disappointing and deceptive. It also played loose with the facts and reasonable people could argue that his action could incite violence.

If an elected official, particularly a Minister of the Crown, is not prepared to meet the public in open debate on legislation they support, that official should reconsider their suitability for Ministerial responsibility. This is the litmus test of political courage. The courage to go into the crucible. If M. Drainville needs reminding, then let him reflect again on the words of President Harry Truman. "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

And this would have been exactly M. Drainville's sentiment in his previous life as a respected journalist. Indeed, perhaps we would all have benefited from a Bernard Drainville as an independent member of the fourth estate rather than as an apologist for the first estate. This episode is particularly disappointing because M. Drainville is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan participant in the world beyond Quebec's borders. He knows that public men and women do not cower in fear. The Liberals' Kathleen Weil didn't nor did Quebec Solidaire's former president Andre Frappier.

drainville_deceit.jpgBut more than the disappointment, Drainville's actions were laced with a not-so-subtle veneer of deceipt. Before cancelling, Concordia's Chris Mota informed the media that M. Drainville's office had asked whether the university could "guarantee" the Minister's safety. Now that's just an old reporter's trick question. Akin to asking, "Have you stopped taking drugs" of someone who has never been accused of it. Drainville, and his staff, knew full well that life comes with no guarantees. And no institution can offer them. So it becomes quite evident that this was all a set-up. A set-up aimed at painting anti-Bill 60 opponents as violent. Indeed the opposite is true. And Drainville knows it.

Just the week before the planned Concordia debate, anti-Bill 60 demonstrators were physically harassed off the downtown UQAM campus. Is it possible that M. Drainville was trying to create the fiction of an anti-Bill 60 violent threat to offset the reality of pro-Bill 60 thuggery? After all, he does represent a government whose leader had no problem marching with the Red Square movement and banging her pot even though some members of that demonstration may have already engaged in trespass on, and destruction of, private property. We're used to PQ double-standards, but Drainville has more intellectual honesty than that and should have refrained from being used as a puppet.

As it happens, there were only a hundred or so demonstrators and they were kept far from where the panel was to speak. Drainville's deceit has another dark side. Every time a lie is propagated; every time a politician engages in the politics of fear, that politician must take responsibility for the potential incitement to violence against the very people he seeks to demonize. M. Drainville has read Jean-Charles Harvey's "La Peur." He knows its lessons. And he should be ashamed.

There is always potential for violence. And Concordia is sometimes a hotbed. But free people in a free society - particularly those in government - cannot , must not, function out of fear. If they do then the enemies of freedom win. I do not make this statement philosophically. It is an issue that I lived through. Several years ago there was a controversy over the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Fear gripped much of academia as almost everyone tried to posture in political correctness and avoid the subject. But at St.Mary's University in Nova Scotia one brave history professor, Peter Forbes March, decided to paste the cartoons on the door of his office to demonstrate his rejection of fear.  He faced criticism. But he stood fast. And through the auspices of my Institute for Public Affairs, I invited him to come and speak in Montreal and acted as his host and presenter. And amidst a considerable backdrop of contentious debate, where did we arrange for March to speak? At Concordia, at the time the "ground zero" of the anti-March forces. And though a few security guards were required and some words were exchanged, March and I stood our ground and the evening continued for three hours.

And that M. Drainville is the responsibility of public people in public discourse. Keep it in mind for next time.