Ontario's premier criticizes Quebec's secular charter, says diversity is strength

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has become the latest Canadian political leader to criticize Quebec’s proposal to ban public servants from wearing religious symbols.

The Parti Quebecois government has proposed a Charter of Quebec Values which reportedly would restrict the right of public employees to wear religious items like turbans, yarmulkes, hijabs and visible crosses.

That’s not something Ontario will be doing, Wynne said Tuesday.

“It’s very important to me that Ontario is a diverse province, that our laws and our policies reflect that diversity,” she told reporters in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“I believe that it is fundamentally one of our strengths, and as we talk about our place, Ontario’s place, in the global economy, our diversity is part of that.”

Asked directly about the Quebec proposal, Wynne said her government will continue to promote diversity in its policies and practices.

“Respecting that diversity, being inclusive and finding the shared Canadian values that we all believe in, that’s what our strength is as a province, so that’s how I will proceed,” she said.

“Other provinces, you know, will make their decisions, but I see our strength as our diversity.”

Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Michael Coteau, put out a statement late last month making it clear the province would not try to ban the use of religious symbols in any place by anyone.

“Our government would oppose the introduction of any legislation in Ontario to restrict or prohibit people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places,” said Coteau.

“Ontario’s diversity and freedom of expression and religion is a model to the world, where we celebrate and respect each other’s differences.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have all been openly critical of Quebec’s proposed Values Charter.

“Our job is social inclusion,” Harper said last week in Toronto. “Our job is making all groups who come to this country, whatever their background, whatever their race, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion, feel at home in this country and be Canadians.”

Harper promised to protect minority rights, but said he’s wary of getting sucked into a fight on the PQ’s chosen battlefield.

“We know that the separatist government in Quebec would love to pick fights with Ottawa,” he said.

The PQ is expected to put out a discussion paper next week on its Quebec Values Charter, and legislation will be introduced in the National Assembly following input from other political parties and the public.

Quebec’s opposition Liberals are resisting the idea, which they deride as a PQ attempt to distract from economic issues.

_ By Keith Leslie in Toronto.