QUEBEC – The calling of a Quebec election killed euthanasia Bill 52, but the Parti Quebecois' divisive Charter of Quebec Values has put the separatist party in line for a majority government April 7.
"I think the PQ has a dual agenda to establish a secularist, separatist society," said McGill University bioethicist Margaret Somerville. "The two goals are complementary."
The charter, which would ban any person working in the public sector from wearing identifiable religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab, the Jewish kippahs or the Sikh turban, and euthanasia both reflect secularist values, Somerville said.
They "would identify Quebec values as being very different from the values of the rest of Canada," said the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and the Law.
"We form a society by buying into shared values," she said. To the extent euthanasia and the charter are not shared by the rest of Canada, "we unbind ourselves by rejecting those shared values."
Somerville said the upcoming Quebec election is more important for Canada than recent federal elections in recent years, including the one coming in 2015. "I hope a majority of Quebecers will vote 'We don't want to separate' by not voting for the PQ."
McGill University historian John Zucchi points out a recent CROP poll that asks a clear question shows 61 per cent of Quebecers would vote against sovereignty if a referendum were held right now and only 39 per cent would vote for it.
The PQ has resorted to "political trickery and ambiguous language on all three of these issues," he said.
"If they are going to push for euthanasia, call it euthanasia," Zucchi said. While the francophone majority supports the proposed charter, they have not sat down to read it, but instead receive one-line messages from the news media and the PQ.
"In many cases the francophones who are supporting the charter only have an image of the foreigner among them because they don't normally see a member of an ethno-religious group in their midst, one who would carry head gear, a Sikh, Jew or Muslim," he said.
The people the PQ is appealing to are not exposed to immigrants, but are susceptible to the "fear-mongering that Quebec identity might change if we give them what they see as too many 'privileges.'"
Somerville said she is "more and more surprised by how hostile Quebec as a whole is to any religion."
Zucchi said the fact the charter resonates among native-born francophone Quebecers, who are largely baptized but non-practising Catholics, "perhaps points to the way in which nationalism can trump one's religious loyalties if the Church does not maintain an awareness of who it is."
"If one's Christian identity is not kept alive, one will seek the essence of one's identity elsewhere, so we end up worrying less about our humanity and 'the last things' and more about our national identity."
Dr. Marc Beauchamp, president of the grassroots anti-euthanasia group Living with Dignity, said no political party wants to make euthanasia an election issue.
No one knows the true level of opposition to euthanasia in the province since it has been called "medical aid in dying,'" he said.
"There is probably a bigger number than we think would really not be in favour of backing someone who will say, 'Vote for me and I will make sure doctors will kill their patients,'" he said.
Even if the PQ does not opt for a referendum on independence right away should it win a majority, passage of both euthanasia and the charter is expected.
Neither would be constitutional under the Canadian constitution, Beauchamp said. If euthanasia passes, his group will fight the matter in courts.
Zucchi noted Quebec's Catholic bishops, especially Cardinal Gerald Lacroix in Quebec City and Archbishop Christian Lépine in Montreal, have spoken out not only against euthanasia but also against the charter.
"Catholic voters should be taking the positions of their bishops very seriously," he said.