Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister condemned a new Quebec law banning public servants from wearing religious symbols during an all premiers' meeting this week, though it appears he had little backup among his peers.
Before the two-day summit in Saskatoon, Pallister told reporters he wanted to discuss Bill 21 with Quebec Premier François Legault.
The Manitoba premier has called the Quebec legislation enshrined last month both "dangerous" and "un-Canadian."
Pallister said the 13 premiers wound up having a group discussion about the bill — although it sounded as though he and Legault were the only ones voicing opinions.
"I would say every premier around the table is aware of the issue and has different levels of concerns. Each premier has to make their own decision on what is their priority issue," Pallister said by phone Thursday after the meeting.
He noted Bill 21 is soon to be challenged by civil rights groups in Quebec.
"I would suggest some of the premiers will defer much opinion or comment until they see how it plays out in the court challenge. Others certainly are quietly concerned," the Manitoba premier said. "But I will leave it to them to express their concerns in a way they think is appropriate."
Pallister said he and Legault ultimately "agreed to disagree" on Bill 21.
"I respect (Legault) and I respect the fact that he was given a mandate by Quebec people... I know now that he also respects the fact that I will not stand back and support a bill that I think is dangerous in the way it erodes the right of a minority," he said.
"And if we aren't going to stand up for the rights of minorities when they are eroded, then I don't think we are doing our job of defending the freedoms that we value in Canada."
The premiers did achieve consensus on other agenda items, including tackling interprovincial trade barriers and calling for a lower federal threshold to access disaster mitigation funding.
They disagreed over whether Canada needs more pipelines, with Legault opposed to the creation of another oil pipeline. The Quebec premier said he supports more corridors for hydroelectricity and natural gas.
— with files from The Canadian Press
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.