The complainant thought characterising the 1995 Quebec referendum as the “abyss of ethnic nationalism” was Quebec-bashing and tarred all Quebec nationalists as xenophobes.

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Will Dubitsky, thought characterising the 1995 Quebec referendum as the “abyss of ethnic nationalism” was Quebec-bashing and tarred all Quebec nationalists as xenophobes. It was a passing comment and an opinion expressed in context. One might not like or agree with the sentiment, but it doesn’t cross a policy line.

COMPLAINT

You objected to several statements made by panelists on the Sunday Talk panel, a regular feature of the Sunday edition of The National. You thought statements made by panelist Jonathan Kay condemned Quebec nationalists and created the impression they were xenophobic and extreme. You particularly objected to a phrase you attributed to him when you thought he had characterized the results of the 1995 Quebec referendum as “the abyss of ethnic nationalism.” You stated this bred hostility and divisiveness:

Jonathan Kay characterized the 1995 referendum results in Quebec as the abyss of ethnic nationalism. This is ignorance on steroids, the main ingredients for bigotry.

The statement was not actually made by Jonathan Kay, but by another panelist, Stephen Marche. Nevertheless, that does not affect your criticism.

You refuted this characterization by pointing out the multicultural nature of Quebec society, and that many prominent politicians were of non-Quebecois background, others were educated abroad and had links to many parts of the world. You said that the PQ (Parti Quebecois) has always been a strong supporter of free trade and a global economy. You added that it was wrong to tar the nationalist position by focusing on a minority who might be xenophobes, and pointed out there were English Quebecers who were equally narrow in their views. There was a second statement that stood out for you. This one is correctly attributed to Mr. Kay:

Jonathan Kay characterizing Quebec nationalism as regionalism is as a convenient pejorative term that could be just as easily be applied to English Canadian nationalism as a regionalism in a North American context.

You also objected to comments made about free trade. You said the panel showed its bias because they seemed surprised that opposition to globalization was coming from the “right” and historically it had been from the “left.” You said that the “left” did not object to free trade, but rather supported “fair trade.”

You expressed overall dissatisfaction with the Sunday Talk panel and the approach of CBC journalism:

On a personal note, the Sunday Talk xenophobia and half truths regarding all that makes Quebec distinct plus the right wing one-sided free trade neurosis of some of the panelists represent only one small minuscule factor of why as an anglo Québecois I prefer to primarily watch Radio-Canada rather than the CBC.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The National, Don Spandier, replied to your complaint. He pointed out that Jonathan Kay had not made the statement about an “abyss of ethnic nationalism” you attributed to him. He highlighted the one reference to Quebec that Mr. Kay did make:

He may be right in regards to the United States. The interesting thing about Canada is our two great political neurosis were a fear of the United States, which evaporated in 2008 when the financial crisis devastated them and not us, and regionalism, including Quebec. The high point was 1995. Our two dominant neurosis are completely abated. We are pretty much a country that doesn’t have anything to freak out about. We are watching the rest of the world feeling like the world’s therapist. It is Justin Trudeau’s word.

He added he did not agree that this could be characterized as something that contributed to bigotry.

Continue reading this on the CBC website, where it was first posted.