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Beranrd Drainville, the Quebec Minister responsible for the Quebec charter of values, outlines a poll on the charter on October 22, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Beranrd Drainville, the Quebec Minister responsible for the Quebec charter of values, outlines a poll on the charter on October 22, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

PQ presses on with religious-symbols ban after poll finds support for Charter plan Add to ...

Emboldened by an Internet consultation that drew supporters of the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, the Parti Québécois government says it will draft legislation in coming days to ban religious symbols from the public service.

And Premier Pauline Marois spelled out clearly on Tuesday in the National Assembly that there will be no advance negotiations with other party leaders to soften the first draft of the bill to improve the chances that her minority government can pass it through Quebec’s divided legislature.

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A law “will be introduced in a few weeks ... and there will be study, debate and discussion,” Ms. Marois said, adding that a moment for negotiation might come afterward.

Bernard Drainville, the minister leading the sales pitch for the plan to regulate religious accommodation in the workplace, continued to suggest on Tuesday that the bill might be tougher than the proposal he announced last month. The plan has triggered acrimonious debate among Quebeckers, including prominent people within the sovereignty movement.

Mr. Drainville said two issues provoked the most fervent comments among the 26,305 people who responded to his request for public input: More than 3,000 people demanded the government remove the crucifix from the National Assembly, and 1,425 wanted the PQ to eliminate an opt-out clause that would let city halls, hospitals and universities allow workers to continue wearing hijabs, turbans and other religious symbols.

The government had already said it was considering both modifications for a final draft of the law.

“I’m not here to announce the content of the bill,” Mr. Drainville said. “But I’ve long said the two main issues people were concerned about are the crucifix and the opt-out clause. Obviously, we’re reflecting on it.”

While opinion polls have shown Quebeckers split on whether the government should banish religious dress from government offices, schools, hospitals and other institutions, the Parti Québécois government says 68 per cent of people who responded to a call for input expressed some support for the plan.

Only 18 per cent of respondents wrote e-mails or placed telephone calls to say they are opposed, Mr. Drainville said.

The government refused to release any of the e-mails or telephone calls, instead passing along its own interpretation of the responses that places them into categories of support or opposition.

Mr. Drainville took the unscientific public opinion sampling as a mark of overwhelming success.

“It’s a good sample, it’s a very good sample. I think it gives a good idea of what Quebeckers are thinking about the Charter of Quebec Values,” Mr. Drainville said.

Several opposition members pointed out that such a call for input can easily be manipulated by interest groups and zealots, who could call and e-mail repeatedly.

“They are appealing to lowest common denominator in human nature,” Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said on Tuesday. “It’s irresponsible.”

Mr. Couillard said on the weekend that a charter of values would pass over his “dead body,” and that his party is preparing for an early December election.

François Legault, Leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, accused the government of “stigmatizing one group in our society – let’s be clear, it’s the Muslim religion — and it’s bad for our society.”

Mr. Drainville said draft legislation should be ready in the next month or so, but any bill is unlikely to succeed given that the PQ is in a minority government and the opposition parties have vowed to defeat the plan as it stands.

Critics, including the two opposition leaders, have accused the PQ of stoking the debate over values to use it as a wedge issue in an election campaign this fall. A poll published on Tuesday in the La Presse newspaper suggested an election would be a tight race between the PQ and the Liberals.

While the Liberals lead by four percentage points, the PQ holds a big advantage among the francophone voters who decide swing ridings.

Follow on Twitter: @Perreaux

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