Things like this give liberalism a bad name.
The city of Gatineau—best known for hosting Canada's Museum of Civilization and a host of public servants—has recently released a "values guide" for new immigrants. The guide is a veritable smorgasbord of helpful advice for new immigrants to ensure that they assimilate—sorry, transition—into Canadian society.
The document covers all kinds of ground, some of it helpful, some of it quite confusing. The helpful bits include suggestions to avoid such horrors as sexual abuse, beating your children, or killing in the name of honour. The strange bits include such suggestions as avoiding strong smelling food, washing your hands, and showing up on time for meetings.
On the one hand it's hard to dismiss outright the idea of such a document. I would like to know the various traditions and practices of the city I'm moving to too. It's hospitable.
But on the other hand the document is an indicator that liberalism—at least as it's conceived in Quebec—is increasingly failing as a philosophical framework for social life.
The Star's Haroon Siddiqui hits the nail on the head when he notes that there was a time when Canadians—or anyone for that matter—didn't need political authorities to tell them what is polite. With tongue planted firmly in cheek he says:
These common courtesies were once widely observed, but no longer. We need a new social consensus. Who better to forge it than city halls? They have time, since they have little money and even less inclination to do what they are supposed to do—fix potholes and provide other services.
The document also suggests that religion is a private matter. Could it be that white bread liberalism—which eschews garlic, curry, and religion—is the reason why Gatineau felt compelled to put this document out in the first place?
The problem with the document is that it attempts to turn the public square into a sterile, bleached white space, devoid of such "irritants" as the smell of curry, body odour, religion, and culture. It attempts to remove from the public square all of the things which make us human. The public square is made squeaky clean, but why would anyone want to go there?
Gatineau's vision of the public square discourages anyone human from entering it. The alternative is to stay at home, and stay with your people. The result is the loss of the public, and increased frustration among those who feel arbitrarily cut off from the greater community. In the hopes of creating an antiseptic public square, documents like these create a septic society.
So, what to do? Siddiqui suggests that "newcomers to Gatineau should treat the gratuitous guide as any other pamphlet. Heed what appeals to you, reject the rest." I agree and would give one more piece of advice: add another clove of garlic to your curry.