Is the rest of Canada wrong about Quebec’s values charter?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The 'rest of Canada' backlash against the Quebec government's proposed values charter continued in earnest this weekend.

The charter — which, if passed through Quebec's national assembly, would essentially ban public employees from wearing religious symbols in public institutions — has evoked angry responses from politicians across the country.

All three federal party leaders have spoken strongly against it.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has accused Quebec Premier Pauline Marois of playing "divisive politics" all in an attempt to "distract from the serious economic challenges" that Quebec is facing.

On Sunday, on CTV's Question Period, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called it "unconstitutional" while Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney called it 'Monty Python-esque.'

"When Quebecers begin to actually contemplate the idea that provincial bureaucrats might be getting out a tape-measure to measure the size of people’s crosses, to see whether or not their earring is too obviously religious — this gets to a point of almost Monty Python-esque absurdity," Kenney said.

[ Editorial Cartoon: Have you seen the Quebec model? ]

But inside Quebec — at least outside Montreal — it looks as if the majority of Quebecers actually support it. The latest poll — released Tuesday but conducted before details of the Charter were released — claims that 66 per cent of Quebecers (mainly from French-speaking areas) support the secularization plan.

A major public sector union has also backed it.

According to the Globe and Mail, representatives from the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ) — which represents 42,000 provincial civil servants — said the new rules were a long time coming.

"We are for the neutrality of the state," union president Lucie Martineau said after a press conference in Quebec city.

"People can (practise their religion) outside working hours. The state is secular."

[ Analysis: Quebec separatists play to core voters with headscarf, turban ban ]

Buoyed by those numbers, Quebec's Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville was on CBC Radio's The House on Saturday, saying that the rest of Canada should be having their own secular charter debate.

"I think the rest of Canada is probably eager to have the same kind of debate we're having in Quebec, but unfortunately political representatives of any party have not been too courageous to have this debate," Drainville said according to CBC News, citing a Forum Research poll which showed that 42 per cent of Canadians supported Quebec's plan.

"I think the Canadian political establishment should take stock of the fact that there's quite a few Canadians who agree with us and who would like to have this debate."

[ Related: Ontario hospital aims to woo workers from Quebec disgruntled by the values charter ]

André Schuttenthat — a lawyer for ARPA Canada who opposes the charter — admits that the ROC is being a little hypocritical.

In an article for the Ottawa Citizen, he noted that provincial governments across the country have been telling public employees to leave their religion at the door for years — just as Marois' PQ is doing now.

Among other things, he cites the Alberta government telling doctors that they have to be able to perform abortions regardless of their religious beliefs; he says that in Saskatchewan, a marriage commissioner is not allowed to refuse officiating a gay marriage because of his or her religious conscience; and in Ontario former education minister, Laurel Broten recently said that 'Christian schools cannot teach that abortion is wrong.'

"These are shocking statements to make. We’re not talking about wearing a certain piece of religious garb here — these are fundamental moral teachings," Schuttenthat wrote.

"I hope that the Rest of Canada can do some introspection.

"Are we guilty, even just a little, of hypocritically trying to take the speck out of Quebec’s eye when we’re blind to the plank in our own? Admittedly, Quebec’s speck is looking a whole lot more like a plank, but the only real difference between Quebec and the Rest of Canada, on this issue, is that Quebec is being bold and forthright about its intentions."

Are politicians and the mainstream media outside of Quebec being hypocrites? Should governments across the country be debating secularization policies instead of just dismissing it outright?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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