The late Mordecai Richler saw through the phoneys who inhabited the Canadian landscape. He had no patience for narrow nationalism -- whether English or French. He particularly loathed French Canadian nationalism, which he believed was rooted in old totems and religious sophistry. His son Noah has inherited his father's sensibilities.
For Noah Richler, Stephen Harper's narrow fear mongering has the same smell as Maurice Duplessis' paranoia of two generations ago. He writes in The New Statesman:
Fear of Islam – not just Islamic State or “Islamism” – has bridged even the chasm of the country’s “two solitudes”: English- and French-speaking Canada. Recent polls suggest that Quebec sovereigntists, historically loath to support the Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, have come round with alacrity to his agitated views about security and the Muslim other.
Just over a year ago, the indépendantiste Parti Québécois (PQ) was defeated in the provincial election after pledging to bar citizens from wearing religious headscarves, turbans or “ostentatious” pendants while in government employment. But where the PQ’s “secular charter” failed, Harper appears determined to succeed. Since 22 October 2014, when the prime minister hid in a closet as a gunman rampaged through the Canadian House of Commons, Harper has shown himself to be a born-again version of his old acrimonious self. In no time at all, he used the hastily dubbed “terrorist” attack in Ottawa – in which a mentally ill vagrant named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at the capital’s National War Memorial before storming the House of Commons and being shot dead – to foment the sort of fear and political division that has served the Conservative government so well since it took office in 2006.
“The international jihadist movement [has] declared war . . . on any country, like ourselves, that values freedom, openness and tolerance,” Harper said after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January. The following month – and not coincidentally in Quebec – Harper pledged to overturn a law allowing prospective Canadians to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. (In reality, any applicant must affirm her identity and remove her niqab before a magistrate privately, prior to the public ceremony.) Then, in March, the prime minister told parliament that the niqab was “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”.
A year ago, Quebecers wisely chose to reject Duplessis' revived navel gazing. But Stephen Harper is attempting to make navel gazing a national past time. Hardly surprising, really, for the Narcissist-in-Chief.