Jason Kenney calls Quebec's values charter 'Monty Python-esque'
Published Sunday, September 15, 2013 9:31AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 15, 2013 3:52PM EDT
Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney says Quebec’s proposed charter of values, which would ban religious clothing and symbols in public-sector workplaces, should not be seen as a divide between the province and the rest of the country.
“This should not be seen as a Canada vs. Quebec issue,” Kenney told CTV’s Question Period. “I know that the separatist government would like to frame it that way.”
Earlier this week, the province’s minority Parti Quebecois government unveiled a contentious plan to prevent public sector employees, including hospital workers, teachers and police officers, from wearing hijabs, niqabs, turbans, kippas and other “ostentatious” religious symbols, such as large crucifixes, while at work.
Kenney said that many Quebecers, including municipal politicians in the Montreal region and “even very serious Quebec nationalist commentators,” have criticized the PQ’s “values charter,” which needs approval from the legislature before it can become law.
Kenney said the proposed ban on religious garb is seen as “inconsistent with Quebec’s best values” – such as former premier Rene Levesque’s resistance to ethnic nationalism.
“What we need as Quebecers, as Canadians to do is recognize that we are considered a model in the world of unity and diversity,” he said.
However, a recent online poll conducted by SOM, one of Quebec’s largest survey firms, suggests that a growing majority of Quebecers support the values charter.
Overall, the survey found that 66 per cent of Quebec residents support the PQ’s plan – an increase of nine per cent from a previous poll conducted last month. The poll also found a stark difference between those who live outside Quebec City or Montreal, with 70 per cent of those residents supporting the plan.
But Kenney said Quebecers may feel differently if they carefully consider the government’s proposal.
“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,” he said.
“And I don’t think the majority of Quebecers support will support that kind of overbearing application of power.”
Kenney noted that just a few decades ago, most of Quebec’s schools and hospitals were largely run by nuns “wearing headscarves and crosses.
“That’s the tradition of Quebec itself and I think it’s something that should be respected,” he said.
Earlier this week, Kenney said he will ask the Department of Justice to review the values charter if it becomes law in Quebec, to see if it violates the constitutional protectionaround freedom of religion in Canada.
Asked why Ottawa is wading into Quebec politics, Kenney said the federal government is prepared to mount a legal challenge against the plan because it’s a “clear effort to violate what are undeniably fundamental and universal rights, like freedom of religion.”
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has said she is “very proud of the charter,” and is looking forward to a debate on it.
“I think we need to set clear guidelines for how we live together,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
But Kenney said such guidelines are counterproductive to creating a harmonious Canada.
“At the end of the day, integration outcomes depend on immigration inputs and if you want people to become a part of your society and fully participate in it, then you have to create a space (and) send a message that people are welcoming (and) including.”
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, who is among the vocal critics of the PQ’s plan, said the NDP caucus is “100 per cent opposed to Mme. Marois’s charter.
“For us, it’s untenable, it’s unbearable to think that a woman who’s working as an educator in a daycare centre would lose her job because she’s wearing a headscarf,” he told Question Period.
Mulcair said he respects Maria Mourani, the Bloc Quebecois MP who was expelled from her caucus for questioning the charter of values, for speaking her mind, but nixed the idea of welcoming her into the NDP.
Asked whether he would reach out to Mourani, Mulcair said “it has never come up,” but he doesn’t see how someone from the sovereignist Bloc Quebecois could transition to the New Democrats.
“Being a strong federalist party, I can’t see how that would work out,” he said.
Tune into CTV's Question Period with Robert Fife on Sundays at 11 am ET.