Peter Stockland

Peter Stockland

Peter Stockland is publisher of Convivium magazine and a senior fellow at Cardus.

Anyone who doubts that haunted nothingness comprises the core of post-Christian societies needs to spend some time in Quebec.

It would be particularly productive, from the perspective of witness, if they could arrive before the current provincial election concludes.

Mere days after Premier Jean Charest launched the campaign on Aug. 1, the spiritual emptiness at the heart of Quebec life opened itself for inspection against the background of electoral rhetoric. It is an emptiness that has nothing to do with language or ethnicity or historical origins, or even  political fever. It has everything to do with being a jurisdiction in which the snake oil of the all-encompassing self has been aggressively sold and swallowed holus-bolus.

For two generations at least, people outside the province have winked knowingly and observed that Quebecers of the late 1950s and early 1960s traded, straight up, obsessive belief in religion and hockey for obsessive belief in language and hockey.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Henri Bourassa called for Quebec to be a beacon of light for French Catholic North America. By mid-century, Quebecers simply sheared off the Catholic part and kept the rest. 

The truth, experienced though certainly not confessed to by everyone who lives in Quebec, is that you cannot simply cut the Catholic life out of a Catholic people without creating a void into which an infinity of bread and circuses will inevitably tumble. Its existence disproves the statement erroneously ascribed to G.K. Chesterton that people who stop believing in God don’t believe nothing, they believe anything. In fact, they do believe nothing because they believe nothing is worth believing.

So an otherwise good and decent man such as Jean Charest finds himself, cynically and in the worst of faith, fighting an election campaign against a gaggle of university students over their sophomoric refusal to pay higher tuition fees. The dispute, and its attendant antics, is really nothing but a Janus mask hiding the deplorable underlying state of this province — a malfeasance caused partly by the bankruptcy of treasury, but primarily by the evisceration of Catholic (Christian) charity among Quebecers.

To cite one small but telling example, people in Quebec’s public long-term care facilities receive one bath a week. If they are bedridden or incontinent, their adult diapers are changed a maximum of once a day. There is simply not enough money, apparently, to pay unionized staff to give them even marginally more adequate care. Neither, however, is there a rush of charity-conscious students knocking at the doors of such facilities to volunteer to alleviate such appalling neglect.

Though the students have demonstrated a superabundance of time for idly marching up and down the street, they have, as yet, shown themselves no more capable of a positive charitable contribution to reality than has their enraptured shaman, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois. Indeed, out of the gate, Marois has ululated a campaign theme that, elsewhere, would be assumed to originate from hallucinogenic plant consumption rather than the braintrust of a democratic political party in 2012. 

Marois will make political, financial and jurisdictional demands that Ottawa will be forced to refuse. She then intends to use the refusal to lead Quebec out of Confederation. This, as the Globe and Mail’s sober-minded and understated Konrad Yakabuski has pointed out, is occurring at a time when Quebec’s government debt places it between Portugal and Italy in the economic basket case sweepstakes.

The seriousness of this silliness is its self-absorption. Locked in the neurotic idée fixe that has obsessed her ­— and the political class around her — since the Church was vanquished in Quebec, Marois has nothing else to offer an electorate that so desperately needs something to rouse it from its malaise. In fairness, she is little more deficient there than CAQ leader François Legault, who was supposed to be a breath of fresh air but has so far managed only to promise that he will not speak of sovereignty or referenda or constitutional quarrels for a decade. Political silence, it seems, is a virtue in a spiritual vacuum.

No one outside Quebec should feel smug, however, about Quebec’s spiritual vacuum. It may be more evident in la belle province, but it is everywhere else as well. Post-Christian nothingness haunts us all.

Tragedy at a Montreal psychiatric facility should stop proponents of  medicalized killing dead in their tracks.

On June 16, one day after the B.C. Supreme Court struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, someone in the high security psychiatric unit of the Centre Hospitalier Université de Montréal asphyxiated a patient. On June 21, a second patient was suffocated.

But here’s the thing: neither death was recognized as a homicide, let alone raised alarm bells, until the next day when an attempt to choke a third patient to death was foiled. A former slaughterhouse worker with a lengthy history of violent crime, who checked himself into the ward the very day the first patient was killed, was charged June 27.

I cannot abide bishop bashing.

The habit in some Catholic circles of remorselessly denouncing and denigrating our prelates for perceived failures to lead, to act, to show courage, to boss the world about, sets my teeth on edge.

It is difficult to imagine a role outside the world of electoral politics that requires a broader back, a thicker skin and a finer ability to manage expectations than that of a North American Catholic bishop in 2012.

Most of us wish the title of Greg Wolfe’s book Beauty Will Save the World could come true.

But few of us would automatically agree with the argument made in Italian dramatist Romeo Castellucci’s newest work — On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God — that even human waste can serve the faith.

Two questions about political progressives have always stumped me: What do they think we are progressing toward, and how will they know when we get there?

Three months of student protests in the streets of Montreal fail to provide   full answers, but they are prime evidence of an outcome. Nearly 50 years of progressive politics have produced a generation whose very vanity is a form of violence as bad as, perhaps worse than, smashed store windows, nightly street riots and quasi-terrorist attacks on the public transit system.

A young man I have known since cutting his umbilical cord 25 years ago will, if all stays on plan, be awarded a doctorate by an Ivy League university in about two years.

Along the way to his PhD, he earned a Master’s degree at Oxford after graduating from one of the Quebec universities whose students have been rioting in the streets since February.

Quebec’s euthanasia debate must be getting horribly confusing when even a Catholic priest doesn’t know the right answer to whether the practice should be legalized.

It must be doubly so when the priest is also a former MP who knows — or should know — that euthanasia can be made legal only by amending the federal Criminal Code.

Yet here was Fr. Raymond Gravel, the one-time Bloc Quebecois MP for a Montreal-area riding, musing about whether killing the elderly, the weak and the suffering might be just what the doctor ordered for Quebec’s health care system.

April 10, 2012

Trampling on rights

Something unsettling is happening when conscience becomes a dirty word in a liberal democracy. Yet most Canadians seem unfazed by the increasing tendency to treat our fundamental right to freedom of conscience as if it were some unspeakable anti-social offence.

The denial of conscience rights to marriage commissioners in Saskatchewan, the obliteration of parental rights in Quebec, the imposition of state sexual ideology on Catholic schools in Ontario — these should all be causing deep concern. In none of these cases, after all, have the aggrieved parties taken the law into their own hands. They have not shouted fire in a crowded theatre, the time-honoured test of the limit of free speech. All they have sought is their Charter-protected right to be exempted from legal or regulatory obligations that violate their deepest and most sincerely held beliefs.

A Quebec legislative committee’s call for legalized euthanasia might be a grave danger to Canada’s health care system. Its immediate and unquestionable menace, however, is the damage it does to democracy.

For the moment, the Select Committee on Dying With Dignity’s all-party report presented March 22 to the province’s National Assembly is in parliamentary and pre-election limbo. There is reason to hope its mad demand for legalizing doctor-administered assisted suicide in Quebec by 2013 will be lost in the dust of politicians hitting the campaign trail.

Preston Manning had an astringent warning for Canadian conservatives at the annual gathering sponsored by his eponymous think-tank.

“For conservatives, being right must mean more than just being right of centre. It must mean doing the right thing. There is no substitute for rock solid personal integrity,” he told the large “C” and small “c” faithful at the recent Manning Centre conference in Ottawa.

Though the words were delivered with Manning’s characteristic personal geniality and intellectual charity, their sting was palpable, particularly among those Conservative Party members still writhing after being flayed by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne. Coyne had carved the Conservative government’s political, policy and ethical failings with the surgical scrupulousness of an assembly line sadist handling the Friday night crowd at Mistress Cheri’s House of Pain and Shame.