It’s been nearly two full months since the rudiments of Quebec’s Charter of Values seeped into public view through carefully orchestrated leaking. Quebeckers, and keenly interested observers in the rest of Canada, are still waiting to see a draft bill. They have been waiting too long.
Serious-minded governments don’t drag their feet on tabling legislation as momentous as the charter is expected to be. The Parti Québécois government owes it to voters to act now; to borrow a Quebec idiom, “il faut arrêter de tourner autour du pot.”
So far the debate has focused on vague pronouncements in the PQ’s electoral platform, and on a thin “orientation” document that served as a pretext to launch a $1.9-million ad campaign. Word that legal texts are now circulating at cabinet level suggests a bill is being finalized, if it hasn’t been already.
The PQ is reportedly waiting until a special cabinet meeting in two weeks’ time, before revealing the law’s specifics. If so, that goes to show that the charter is primarily an electoral manoeuvre, a distraction from pressing problems such as the economy.
The charter is ostensibly meant to defend women, but since it has been promoted, there have been many documented reports, from around the province, of hijab-wearing women being harassed and verbally assaulted.
In the past, notably with Bill 101, the PQ’s flagship – and most enduring – achievement, draft laws with major constitutional implications were preceded by clearly enunciated policy aims, extensive public consultations, white papers, legal opinions and provincial tours by cabinet ministers.
Now, the PQ has offered little more than a patchwork of leaks, occasional contradictory public statements, opinion-page fury and a website that invites people to leave their comments.
One leak this week, this time to La Presse, indicated the government is considering changes to the charter; they want to make it tougher: no more blanket exemptions to institutions such as municipalities, hospitals, schools and provincially subsidized daycare centres, from the outright ban on religious headgear.
There are also suggestions the PQ may now countenance removing the crucifix from the wall of the National Assembly. This will doubtless be painted as a concession to critics who accuse the party of being mealy-mouthed in its approach to secularism, but it is ironic that the province’s Catholic bishops had already made it easy for the PQ by saying they do not object to moving the crucifix.
If the stakes were not so high, it might be funny.