Legault says government will act quickly on religious symbols in civil service
QUEBEC -- The Quebec government will move quickly to prohibit the wearing of religious symbols by teachers and other public-sector workers in positions of authority, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday.
Addressing the legislature for the first time since his Coalition Avenir Quebec was elected Oct. 1, Legault said Quebecers have had enough of the debate over secularism.
"The wearing of religious symbols will be banned from state employees in positions of authority, including primary and secondary school teachers," he said.
"It's a reasonable position. We will therefore be very firm, and we will move quickly."
The plan to restrict religious symbols such as hijabs and kippas has been denounced by some rights advocates, although a CROP poll published earlier this week found a majority of Quebecers were in favour.
Legault's inaugural speech did not shy away from his more controversial promises, which include reducing immigration and raising the legal age of cannabis consumption from to 21 from 18.
At the same time, he promised a new kind of nationalist leadership focused on health care, education and economic growth instead of the constitutional question.
"This era of confrontations between sovereigntists and federalists has marked an entire generation," he said.
"The new government advocates a unifying nationalism, whose objective is to ensure the economic development of the Quebec nation inside Canada, while proudly defending its autonomy, its language, its values and its culture."
Legault called for calm in the debate over immigration, urging Quebecers to avoid the "frenzied accusations" that have characterized the discussion in the past.
He said existing immigration policy has failed to avert a labour shortage, and he announced plans to prioritize newcomers who already have jobs lined up or who are prepared to work in outlying regions.
Legault maintained his government's plan is to accept fewer immigrants but to offer more resources to those accepted.
"We want to reduce immigration levels to give ourselves the means to better integrate immigrants to the work market, to the francophone majority and to our common values, especially equality between men and women," he said.
The premier said his government's top priority will be education, and he promised steady funding increases to stop Quebec from lagging behind in academic success.
He reiterated promises to introduce kindergarten for four-year-olds, eliminate elected school boards and do a better job of helping special needs students.
The other priorities outlined in the speech included attracting foreign investment and reducing emergency room overcrowding by delegating more responsibility to family doctors and other health-care personnel.
He also spoke of the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through electrification of transportation and investment in public transit.
As of 2015, the province was well behind pace to meet its 2020 target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels.
"Will it be possible to meet the 2020 objectives? Nobody has the information to answer that question," he said.
Legault invoked the daring of early settlers as he called on Quebecers to overcome the fear of change and the fear of making mistakes.
"This fear is the opposite of audacity," he said.
"As President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt once said in a much more dramatic context, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."'
-- By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal