QUEBEC – The cabinet minister behind Quebec’s controversial values charter says the Parti Quebecois is willing to make it an election issue.
The two major Opposition parties have made it clear they will vote against the provincial budget, which is expected in a few months, Bernard Drainville said Tuesday.
That scenario would topple the PQ minority government and trigger yet another provincewide vote — more than likely before the charter is voted on in the legislature.
“That would effectively mean the CAQ (the Coalition for Quebec’s Future) and the Liberals would be making the charter an election issue,” Drainville told reporters as public hearings began on the divisive Bill 60.
“If they decide to defeat us and the charter hasn’t been passed, one of the consequences will be that it becomes an election issue.”
Bill 60 would forbid public employees from wearing visible religious symbols including hijabs, turbans, kippas and larger-than-average crucifixes.
The plan has fuelled heated debates in the province since it was unveiled last year and some opponents believe the PQ could use identity as a wedge issue in the election campaign.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois campaigned during the 2012 election on an emotionally charged pledge to introduce a “Charter of Secularism,” notably aimed at restricting Islamic headwear in public institutions.
Critics of Bill 60 say the legislation is unnecessary and infringes on personal freedom. They have also accused the PQ of focusing on identity issues as a way to avoid talking about Quebec’s economic situation.
The Quebec government argues the charter would shield the province from what it describes as encroaching fundamentalism and says it would provide protection against gender discrimination.
On Tuesday, Drainville called the proposed legislation a moderate document that offers tailor-made secularism for his province.
He reiterated that the government will not back down on the proposed bill, saying he’s convinced it’s a necessity.
“It’s a bill for Quebecers that reflects what we are as a society,” he said.
“It’s a moderate, well-balanced bill and the kind of state secularism that we are proposing is going to be a state secularism that is unique to the Quebec society.”
Drainville said his party has worked very hard on the charter over the past year. He referred to the public hearings, which are expected to last two months and feature as many as 200 individuals and groups, as a first step toward its eventual adoption.
“I am convinced we need to pass the charter, but we can’t cut any corners,” said Drainville, the minister responsible for democratic institutions.
“Even if people are against the charter, if they have the impression they have been listened to and respected, they will be more inclined to respect it when it becomes law.”
Speaking in Montreal on Tuesday, Marois categorically denied she wants to go to the polls.
“We are not in election-mode or even pre-election mode,” said Marois, who was elected in September 2012.
“If the Liberals and the Caquistes want to bring us down, that will be their decision.
“We are not thinking whatsoever about an election. We’re putting the emphasis on employment and we have other irons in the fire.”