Marois would invoke notwithstanding clause to ensure charter survival
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 31, 2014 11:43AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 31, 2014 10:01PM EDT
TROIS-RIVIERES -- Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is prepared to invoke the rarely used notwithstanding clause to ensure her party's controversial secular charter is adopted.
Marois said Monday she will reintroduce the values charter project as it currently stands if her party forms a majority government after next Monday's Quebec election.
And she promised she will invoke the notwithstanding clause to immediately ward off the possibility of any legal threat against the secular charter.
The clause is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and allows Parliament or provinces to override the charter in order to adopt legislation.
Marois said the clause would simply be integrated into the values charter.
"We have different advice about the constitutionality of this charter," Marois said. "Some say yes, no problem, some say no. So I will not take any risks with this.... If we need this clause, we will use this clause."
Marois's comments run contrary to a report in Montreal La Presse on Monday, which cited a source who said the PQ's plan was to push through the charter without using the clause. That source told the paper an eventual loss in the courts on the charter issue would be used to jolt the sovereignty movement.
Marois defended the charter and denied she was leading a fear campaign.
"It's a preventive measure that we're taking by adopting a charter that clearly spells out the rules of the game and leaves no doubt for the population," Marois said in Trois-Rivieres.
"We will review our legal opinions, but if we see that the charter can be contested, we will use the notwithstanding clause."
That legal hurdle already looms because the federal government and other groups have said they will take whatever action is necessary to stop the charter.
In the past, Marois has said she was confident the proposed charter would be able to withstand legal challenges.
It would ban all public sector employees -- a list that includes teachers and daycare workers -- from displaying or wearing religious symbols such as the hijab or the kippa. Marois said it would remain largely as is if the PQ return to power.
The charter has been highly controversial, but some polls suggest it's favoured by a majority of francophones, a segment of the electorate that holds considerable sway in what polls have indicated is a tight election race.
On Sunday, one prominent supporter of the charter made a splash in the campaign while using the example of an apartment swimming pool to warn of the dangers of religious accommodation.
Janette Bertrand, the head of a pro-charter group known as the Janettes, argued the accommodation of religious minorities in everyday life threatens to erode the equality between men and women.
Imagine, Bertrand said, if two men come to a swimming pool in a Montreal apartment and are upset by the sight of women in the water.
"Well, suppose they leave, and go see the owner," said Bertrand, an 89-year-old former actress and journalist, emphasizing that the owner would be happy to have such "rich" McGill University students in the building.
"Then they ask, 'Well, can we have a day,' and they will pay... And then in a few months, it's them who have all the pool time.
"That's what will happen if there is no charter."
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said Monday it's clear to him the charter is an attempt at engineering a social crisis and that the PQ's ultimate goal is clear: a sovereignty referendum.
"It is regrettable, questionable and indefensible see how to Madame Marois and the PQ, the end justifies the means," Couillard said in Quebec City, describing the move as "machiavellian."
The Liberal leader said the PQ charter is a political ploy that has nothing to do with Quebecers' identity.
"The goal was not to legislate on the so-called identity," Couillard said. "The goal was to create a big fight, a big division and build that in a truly machiavellian way toward a referendum."
The PQ has pushed to move the discussion to identity and language just one week before the vote which has been dominated by talk about sovereignty and an independence referendum.
For his part, the Coalition for Quebec's Future said it wants to keep the focus on the economy in the final week of the campaign.
Coalition Leader Francois Legault noted he brought up the notion last August of using the notwithstanding clause. But he told a reporter on Monday he wasn't going to discuss the matter further. He is in favour of a modified version of the charter but said there are more important issues to discuss.
"I won't play Madame Marois's game by talking about the charter," Legault said in Quebec City. "I want to talk about the economy and I'm going to talk about the economy until April 7."