Quebec's controversial 'values' plan set to be released Tuesday

After more than a year of speculation and increasingly heated debate, the Quebec government will release its proposals Tuesday for a “values charter” that would restrict religious clothing.

The Parti Quebecois government will roll out its suggestions at a morning news conference in the provincial legislature, 13 months after making an election pledge to introduce such a plan.

The debate has intensified in recent days since purported details were leaked to various media, prompting warnings from critics of potential lawsuits and the departure of some minorities from Quebec.

While polls have suggested the idea could be quite popular in Quebec, it has been denounced by some politicians inside the province — and from many outside.

The latest condemnation came from an Ontario backbencher, on the governing Liberal side, who announced plans to table a symbolic motion related to the issue.

Liberal MLA Monte Kwinter’s motion will call on the Ontario legislature to oppose the introduction of any legislation to restrict or prohibit people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was asked Monday about the motion and whether other provinces should make a similar statement given what the PQ is planning. She replied that the “inclusive nature of society” is worth preserving.

“I want to preserve that. I want to enhance that. I believe an inclusive society makes us stronger,” Wynne said Monday.

“We are a diverse society and that diversity is very much a part of our strength. And I would oppose anything that would attack that inclusion.”

But for all the political discussion about the Quebec plan the details about it have been quite scarce. What’s even less clear is what the final product might look like.

The PQ, which has only a minority government and cannot pass legislation alone, has said it will seek consensus with other parties before moving forward.

The latest media leaks suggest there could be an opt-out clause for some institutions — with one report describing it as a renewable, five-year exemption.

Though the specifics have always been vague, the PQ idea flows from an election promise to bar people from wearing religious clothing like hijabs and kippas while working in government institutions.

The party has been emphasizing hot-button identity issues since it was drubbed in the 2007 provincial election. In that election the PQ finished behind the conservative, populist, and now-defunct Action democratique du Quebec.

Some pundits now speculate that the PQ might be trying to drag out the “charter” debate to make Quebec’s identity — and not other issues, like the economy or social services — the heart of the next election campaign.

The federal government has voiced its wariness of the plan, without getting too deeply involved so far. Federal opposition parties have been more vocal, primarily the Liberals.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau drew links between the plan and U.S. segregation, which earned him some scoldings in Quebec, especially from his Liberals’ more nationalist opponents.

As it turns out, the Liberal leader will be in the province Tuesday opening up his party’s byelection campaign office in one of the most multiethnic ridings in Quebec, in east-end Montreal.