SASKATOON – Tom Mulcair has denounced Quebec’s proposed charter of values as completely unacceptable.
The federal NDP leader, who had adopted a cautious, wait-and-see approach to the issue, came down hard moments after the Parti Quebecois government unveiled a discussion paper Monday outlining its plans to ban public servants from displaying religious head wear and other symbols.
“For now, suffice it say that the text confirms our worst fears,” he said outside an NDP caucus retreat in Saskatoon.
“We’re categorical in rejecting this approach. Human rights don’t have a best-before date, they’re not temporary and they’re not a popularity contest.
“To be told that a woman working in a day care centre because she’s wearing a head scarf will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society.”
Mulcair faced some criticism for not immediately coming out against the charter when details first began leaking out weeks ago.
He was criticized for pandering to popular sentiment in Quebec, which accounts for 57 of the NDP’s 100 MPs, including Mulcair.
But he said Monday that the NDP has a “proud history” of standing up for human rights and this will be no different.
“This for us is completely unacceptable and the NDP will be standing up four-square against this project.”
Unlike any other federalist parties which have only a handful of seats in Quebec, the NDP has much to lose by standing up against the charter, which polls suggest is popular among Quebecers.
But Gatineau MP Francoise Boivin said she’s confident Quebecers will be open to rational debate on the charter. She said New Democrat MPs can help in “toning down” the debate and not giving the Parti Quebecois government the raging, “divisive” fight it wants.
“Of course, it’s always easier to go on the popular side of a situation,” Boivin acknowledged.
“(But) we stand firm on our rights and I think it’s part of our role as MPs, as leaders in this society, to go on the ground and explain things. And if we explain well, I value the intellect and the intelligence of all the population in Quebec.
“So, I’m pretty sure that past the initial, just easy lines that can be thrown out just to aggravate people against one another, when you scratch the surface and explain well, I don’t think there’ll be a problem.”
Quebec MP Annick Papillon suggested the NDP can propose a “positive” alternative to the charter that will be more respectful and inclusive.
“We’re going to find a solution that is rational and respectful of any, any Quebecers, Canadians,” she said.
“For us at the federal level, we’re going to work on something that make us together, (rather) than to divide us,” agreed Djaoudia Sellah, a suburban Montreal MP.
Boivin, the party’s justice critic, said the proposed charter is incoherent because of the many exceptions proposed.
“How can you differentiate between human beings like, oh, if you are part of a municipality, it will be okay if they opt out of it but if you work for a ministry it won’t be? If you’re in a private school, you can wear a veil if you want but if you work in public (schools) you can’t.”