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affirmative action

While much is being made of Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the relative lack of women in Saudi politics (see below), here at home, under very different circumstances, we’re hearing some of the same issues – and criticisms.

Stephane Dion is actively seeking female candidates to run for the federal Libs – he’s even stated that he’s willing to use a quota system to ensure “adequate representation”, and to kick out male candidates to make room for female ones.

Here in Quebec, criticism abounded after last week’s election reduced the number of female MNAs from 39 to 32.

Arguments like this have always annoyed me. As a woman, I believe that I ought to have every right and opportunity to do anything a man can do. And I also believe that, unlike in Saudi Arabia, here in Canada (and Quebec), that’s pretty much true.

Women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive, can’t vote, can’t walk out on the street unaccompanied by a male relative, have to hide behind veils and robes, can’t participate in society as free and equal members. Saudi Arabia’s problems run far deeper than simply ensuring adequate representation among elected officials. (For starters, the elections themselves are a sham… But that’s a whole different rant.)

In contrast, here, women are free, full and equal members of society. If barriers still exist – and I acknowledge that they do – they are no longer legal and we are working hard to deinstitutionalize them.

But politicians who rant about not having enough women candidates are not saying so because they truly believe that women are barred from politics or lack opportunities; they’re doing it for reasons that are – no pun intended – purely cosmetic.

And finally, a refreshing perspective on the subject from Brigitte Pellerin in the Ottawa Citizen:

According to something called the Inter-Parliamentary Union (, Rwanda ranks first in the world with 48.8 per cent women representation in the national legislature, whereas Canada is 48th with 20.8 per cent. The United States, where we all know women are routinely persecuted by a political class bent on systemic gender inequality, is 68th with 16.3 per cent. So, is the theory that we’d be better off if we were governed more like Rwanda?

[ . . . ]

And if we’re legislating quotas for perspective, then we should also make the proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, etc. representatives match their share of the general population, assuming we even know it. And once we get there, shouldn’t we also worry about religious representation? What about race?

Oooh, dear.

To me equality means not caring whether my elected representative is male or female or black or gay or Methodist or whatever. And democracy means letting people elect whomever they think represents their views. I believe enforcing equal representation of women in politics would be wrong, undemocratic, and possibly even counterproductive. I suspect I am not alone.

Nope, not alone at all. I agree completely. And I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Equality by quota is counter-productive in the long run. It doesn’t eradicate barriers, it merely sets up new ones. Equality really ought to mean equality of opportunity, and that will only happen when we stop electing, hiring people based on their gender or skin colour or language or religion, and start judging them based on ideas, accomplishments, and – what’s that old-fashioned outdated thing again? – oh yeah, merit.

(But that just wouldn’t be, y’know, politically correct).

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When will people understand that certain ways of dealing with racism only serve to compound the problem?

Take, for example, the planned Quebec anti-racism initiative, which is being launched in response to public hearings and a report by the Task Force on the Full Participation of Black Communities in Quebec. Among the report’s recommendations:

– The Quebec government should adopt an official policy to fight all forms of racial discrimination.

– Quebec’s civil service should consider hiring quotas for blacks and other visible minorities.

– The province should document how blacks are portrayed in the media so it can inform journalists and media owners about how they ”often portray blacks negatively.”

– The Ministry of Education should review school textbooks to make sure they mention the contribution of blacks and other visible minorities to Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Hiring quotas? Media portrayal standards? Are we really back there again? Hasn’t anyone realized by now that this stuff doesn’t work?

Anyway, all of this is nothing but a smokescreen. The real problem with anti-racism initiatives in Quebec is that they’re politically-motivated. Any real efforts to combat racism would have to expose the nasty little secrets about Quebec society that nobody – particularly the politicians – wants to talk about.

The truth is, racism is a problem everywhere. But in Quebec, it’s more politically-correct to be racist against some groups than others. Sure, everyone will get on board when we talk about racism against people with different skin colour… so long as their first language is French. But racism against anglophones? Against Jews? Against Asians? Against groups that the Quebec government won’t even allow in as immigrants because their command of the French language is less than perfect? Anyone who dares bring any of those up is accused of being part of the bourgeoisie elite, or the oppressive “rich white English” from “Westmount” trying to keep down the poor, downtrodden working-class French.

Most of us who live here know that Quebec society has evolved past these outdated stereotypes. So why do government officials still insist on propagating them? And why is it that any discussion of racism only focuses on some groups and not others?

Quebec society is much more open-minded, multi-ethnic and multicultural than it used to be. Look how tolerant we are for, say, Hezbollah supporters who want to march downtown with flags comparing Israelis to Nazis… and with the backing of prominent Quebec politicians.

But racism isn’t going to go away here until we scrape under that surface. In the meantime, initiatives like the one proposed by the Quebec government serve only as expensive window-dressing.


US admissions ruling


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favour of racism: In upholding the law school’s policy, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said for the majority in the 5-4 ruling that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify use of race in admissions decisions. Sad.

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Politically-correct racism?


You know, I’m getting really tired of people who analyse or critique political races, institutions, or policies by claiming that “there aren’t enough minorities”. I’m not talking about situations in which minorities are excluded or systematically discriminated against. Rather, I’m referring to instances where a person is given a position, an award, or an advantage […]

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On affirmative action


With Affirmative Action back in the US courts (and the news), now may be an opportune time for me to weigh in with my two cents on the subject. I don’t support affirmative action in university admissions – or in the workplace, or other such domains for that matter. It’s a dangerous thing to say […]

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