MONTREAL — The minority Parti Quebecois tabled a toughened secularism charter Thursday and warned that it’s prepared to go to the polls if the bill is rejected. The PQ considers the bill a confidence motion and didn’t make any compromises to appease opposition parties whose support would be needed to pass it.
“If the Liberal Party objects, this is the kind of vote that involves the confidence of the government,” house leader Stephane Bedard told the legislature. He said the secularism charter is at the heart of the government’s program.
The PQ bill would bar all public service workers from wearing conspicuous religious symbols on the job. The ban would also apply to municipalities and universities, which had a “right of withdrawal” under earlier drafts of the charter.
Bernard Drainville, the minister in charge of the secularism charter, told a news conference the bill “marks a significant milestone in our history.” He has said the charter is a logical outworking of increased separation of church and state that began in the 1960s after 200 years of church control over Quebec society.
Drainville said the secularism charter, if adopted, would become part of government hiring criteria. “They will be hired and will then have to agree not to wear religious symbols,” he said. The PQ would also give power to the provincial legislature office to decide which religious symbols can be displayed in the building.
The move would set the stage for a large crucifix to be removed from the prominent position it has occupied in the main legislature chamber for decades.
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard blasted the bill Thursday, calling it “impractical, illegal and unconstitutional.” “We are witnessing today a frontal attack against the rights and freedoms of all Quebecers,” the Opposition leader said. “We will never agree to such a move.”
The CAQ, the third party in the legislature with 18 seats, could hold the decisive votes. It has pushed for a partial ban on religious symbols for judges, police officers and prison guards.
The PQ has insisted its secularism charter will unite Quebecers. But its toughened stance will likely lead to more protests and possibly court challenges from religious groups. Harvey Levine, Quebec regional director at B’nai Brith Canada, says his group will join any constitutional challenge. “(The bill) will continue to divide this population in Quebec more than anything that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Levine said.