November 18, 2019

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Bloc Quebecois leader says secularism taking up too much space in federal campaign

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

ST-BASILE-LE-GRAND, Que. - Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has had enough of all the secularism talk.

Quebec's Bill 21 banning religious symbols for some public servants is a "very important" subject, but it should not be an issue in the current federal campaign, the Bloc leader said Tuesday on the campaign trail.

Speaking the day after the final English-language debate, Blanchet said Quebec's secularism law which bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols on the job, is a provincial matter, and the federal parties should move on to other issues.

"There are plenty of things we should be talking about that we don't talk much about, because this issue is eating up all the space," Blanchet said Tuesday.

The Bloc has campaigned in favour of Quebec's secularism law for months, to its advantage. The party's slogan, which translates to "Quebec is us", is also available in several other versions including "Secularism is us."

The Bloc has been outspoken in its defence of the law introduced by the Coalition Avenir Quebec government this year, and Blanchet claims that without the Bloc standing guard, federal funds would have been used to challenge it in court.

"If we had not been there, it would have been a long time ago, it's clear, that funds would have been released to challenge Bill 21," Blanchet said. "It would be a festival of who will hit Quebec the hardest."

In Quebec City, Premier Francois Legault slammed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for boasting in Monday's debate that he is the only federal leader who might use the courts to challenge Quebec's secularism law.

"I find it pretty special that Mr. Trudeau comes and says he's ready to contest a law against the popular will of Quebecers," Legault told reporters. He said Trudeau was clearly trying to set himself apart — in English — from his chief rivals.

At the outset of the campaign, Legault urged federal leaders to stay out of Quebec's business and promise not to join a court challenge of the law, which prohibits teachers, police officers and others deemed to be in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

"I think it's important to remember that Bill 21 is a moderate law if we compare it to equivalent laws in place in some countries in Europe," Legault said Tuesday. "It is only for new employees and only for civil servants in an authority position — it's important that we understand first, the law, and second, that we respect the will of seventy per cent of Quebecers."

In southwestern Quebec on Tuesday, the Bloc leader sought to change the discussion to such other topics as infrastructure, regional development and seniors' care. The federal sovereigntist party proposed a series of measures aimed at alleviating the financial worries of seniors.

Federal leaders will debate one final time — in French — on Thursday night. With his party climbing in the polls in Quebec, Blanchet said he expects to be the target of attacks from his opponents.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2019.

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