Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks about Quebec’s proposed Values Charter

Prime Minister Harper at a press conference on August 20, 2013 (CP)Stephen Harper has finally spoken out about the Quebec government's secularization plan.

The prime minister had been criticized for his muted response about the so-called Values Charter which will reportedly ban public employees from wearing religious symbols in public institutions.

On Thursday afternoon, he chose his words cautiously.

"I am going to continue to be very careful in what I say about this given that we have not seen a proposal yet from the Government of Quebec. So I don't know specifically what's in it. I have heard different things. Some of which cause more concern than others.

We know that the separatist government in Quebec would love to pick fights with Ottawa. But that's not our business. Our business is the economy. Our business is job creation for Canadians — all Canadians including Quebecers. And our job is social inclusion.

Our job is making all groups that 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. That's our job.

You know, there are all kinds of competing rights, rights of religion, rights of gender equality but we will withhold our comment until we see what exactly is in the proposal.

And we will assure ourselves, when we look at that proposal, that the fundamental rights of Canadians are indeed protected."

[ Related: The politics of dancing: Why Harper, Mulcair remain mum on Quebec's values charter ]

While Harper may not want to pick a fight with Quebec's PQ government, Justin Trudeau is willing and seemingly able.

The Liberal leader's latest attack against the Charter came at a caucus event on PEI, on Wednesday.

"These days when you reflect on the 50th anniversary of that magnificent speech by Dr. King, who was fighting segregation, who was fighting discrimination, who was rejection the notion that there are second-class citizens, you see that unfortunately even today, when we're talking, for instance, about this idea of a charter of Quebec values, there are still people who believe you must choose between your religion and Quebecois identity, there are people forced by the state in Quebec to make irresponsible and inconceivable choices," Trudeau said, according to the Canadian Press.

CP goes on to quote Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, who called Trudeau's comments divisive.

"I don't think Mr. Trudeau has any lessons to give to Quebecers," Cloutier said.

"You have to remember that his father patriated the Constitution without Quebec's consent. He does not act as a leader. He should ask his people to have an open-minded dialogue — and not put pressure on divisions.

"He's definitely adding words of division."

[ Related: English media 'pathetic' in coverage of Parti Quebecois minorities plan: ex-premier ]

Harper's comments on Thursday came during a press conference about the government's plan to introduce new legislation related to sexual exploitation of children.

The new measures would increase penalties for offenders and include consecutive sentences for those who commit sexual acts against multiple children.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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