Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PQ stiffens on charter

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QUEBEC -- The Parti Québécois government appears to be digging in its heels on its controversial religious-symbols ban and preparing for an extended debate.

Statements from ministers Wednesday suggest the PQ has no intention of watering down the plan for speedy passage of its proposed charter of values in the current minority legislature.

One day after a minister expressed a willingness to "improve" the charter, the government suggested the changes it envisioned would be minor and not dilute its basic elements.

Thought the legislature's third party is offering to negotiate a deal on the bill, the minister spearheading the proposed charter says he prefers to put it to Quebecers.

A website on the proposed rules has already received 10,000 comments, and Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for democratic reforms, told a news conference the debate could continue for many "weeks."

He welcomed the Coalition party's offer to negotiate, but Drainville said he didn't want to upset the public.

"It's a debate that's too important," Drainville said Wednesday. "We have to leave Quebecers the time. These are their values."

Since the charter appears stalled in its current form in the legislature, the PQ appears to have two basic options: strip it down to pass it quickly, or preserve it for possible use later as an election promise.

If the issue winds up as an election plank, it would likely give the PQ two hot-button identity issues for their platform, as the Marois government has already said it expects its language law, Bill 14, will die on the order paper of the current legislature.

The debate comes as a poll published in La Presse Wednesday suggests the values plan would skyrocket in popularity if its most controversial provision -- banning religious headwear -- were removed.

The PQ wants to forbid public-sector employees from wearing visible religious symbols, including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-average crucifixes.

The detailed poll on Quebec attitudes listed four streams of thought on the charter proposal: old-stock Catholics, concerned about the effect of immigration (29 per cent of respondents); tolerant believers, with a live-and-let-live approach to religious faith (29 per cent); closed secularists, who oppose religion in the public space (21 per cent); and open secularists, who aren't religious but aren't concerned about others' expressions of faith (21 per cent). Those findings suggest a 50-50 split between people whose view supports a PQ-style approach and those who oppose it.

 

-- The Canadian Press

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 A11

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