Parti Québécois minister Bernard Drainville said he wanted to get rid of the “party line” in Quebec’s fractious debate on religious accommodation when he announced a plan to impose a dress code for religious public employees. Instead, he’s drawn one through the heart of his own movement.
A revolt gained momentum Friday within the forces struggling for Quebec independence as former stalwarts, including one-time premiers Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry, revealed their unhappiness with the strong-arm tactics being used to sell a PQ plan to limit the religious dress of practising Muslims, Sikhs and others in the provincial public service.
Long-simmering dissension over the place of visible minorities in Quebec blew into the open with the expulsion from the Bloc Québécois of MP Maria Mourani, who openly criticized the charter for being draconian and an appeal to populist intolerance.
And resistance wasn’t just among the movement’s elite: Former Bloc staffers and several riding executives spoke out or quit over the charter or Ms. Mourani’s expulsion. Several prominent sovereigntist entertainers were also critical.
Mr. Parizeau’s wife and former member of the National Assembly, Lisette Lapointe, blasted the “believe or die” attitude of the Bloc. But while she was harsh on the expulsion of Ms. Mourani, she also objected to the portion of the PQ charter dealing with hijabs, turbans, kippas and other religious garments. She also made it clear in one radio interview that her husband, who could not be reached for comment Friday, is on her side.
“The PQ needs to split their project in two. We’re all for a charter of secular values, but on banning religious symbols, they need to do their homework,” she said.
For his part, Mr. Landry said he supports the charter, but described the ejection of Ms. Mourani, a personal friend, as “catastrophic.”
The sovereignty movement and the PQ spent decades working on their relationship with Quebec minority groups, particularly after the night of the 1995 referendum, when Mr. Parizeau said Quebec independence was narrowly lost because of money and ethnic votes. Many in Quebec, starting with Ms. Mourani, are beginning to wonder whether the Charter of Quebec Values will do even more damage than the statement did.
Ms. Mourani, a 44-year-old of Lebanese origin who will now sit in Parliament as an independent, has been trying to convince Quebec minority groups of the value of Quebec independence for more than 10 years. She said Friday that she’s no longer sure she has a place in the struggle.
“Since I started as an activist, I’ve sensed this tension in the independence movement,” Ms. Mourani said. “But the leadership and the majority of party activists always managed to chase away the demons of populist intolerance. So now I ask, have times changed?”
Ms. Mourani said substantial damage is being done to race relations in Quebec. “I’m getting e-mails from Saguenay from people who have never met a Muslim who think they’ve seen it all because they’ve seen Taliban on TV,” Ms. Mourani said. “They have an extremely negative perception.”
An Angus-Reid poll conducted this week showed two-thirds of Quebeckers support the charter. Support for the measures proposed in the charter has remained relatively unchanged for months, even before it was officially unveiled. But Ms. Mourani said she is confident that Quebeckers will come around after considering its impact.
“Once they meet different people, Quebeckers aren’t intolerant,” she said, adding that a normal government would usually help in that bridge-building effort. “It’s very simple. Put $2-million into informing people in all Quebec about the beauty of difference instead of putting money into selling your charter.”