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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois speaks in Quebec City on Aug. 25, 2013. (FRANCIS VACHON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois speaks in Quebec City on Aug. 25, 2013. (FRANCIS VACHON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

PQ plans step-by-step release of values charter, keeping critics on their toes Add to ...

The Marois government will release only the broad outlines of its Quebec Charter of Values next week, forcing critics to keep waiting before they can debate the legality or the finer details of the proposal.

The Quebec government will lay out a series of “orientations” and “proposals,” while a full bill will be tabled only after a consultation period, provincial officials said.

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The step-by-step release means the contents of the actual charter will remain a moving target, forcing other political parties to either hold their fire, or commit to a firm stand on an evolving proposal.

“We will be able to see the positions of the Quebec Liberal Party and the CAQ, and get reactions from Quebec and elsewhere, and then move forward,” a Parti Québécois insider said.

This means the minority PQ government will be able to drag along the debate and adapt its position based on the reaction of Quebeckers and other Canadians.

According to a media leak, which has not been disavowed by the PQ government, the province wants to protect state secularism by prohibiting public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols in workplaces such as schools, hospitals and daycares.

The proposal has stoked wide-ranging debates across the country as proponents of multiculturalism and secularism square off over the need to limit the religious freedom of government workers.

The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has led the opposition among federal parties up to this point, going as far as raising an analogy to segregation in the United States in the 1960s. Mr. Trudeau attacked those who “believe that we have to choose between our religion and our Quebec identity,” stating the charter would force some people to make “irresponsible and inconceivable choices.”

On the other hand, the Conservative government and the NDP have moved more cautiously up to this point, preferring to wait for firm proposals to come out of the Quebec government before offering a clear stand on the matter.

One of the problems for the Conservatives and the NDP is their desire to either win or keep seats in Quebec, especially outside of Montreal, where the idea of a charter has proven to be popular in public opinion polls. If the parties lash out at the PQ proposal, they will risk alienating some of their would-be voters.

Still, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said that his party is “not going to allow something that goes against the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms].”

“And I don’t want to see scapegoating, particularly of Muslim women, that seems to be one of the particular targets here,” he said last month.

One of the Conservative government’s few comments on the matter to this point has come from Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, who has stated on Twitter that “a child is no less Canadian because she or he wears a kippa, turban, cross, or hijab to school.”

However, the PQ proposal is not expected to affect the ability of anyone to obtain government services if they wear religious symbols. Instead, the PQ government has been talking about preventing government employees from wearing religious symbols, while refusing to remove the crucifix that currently hangs in the National Assembly.

The PQ has defended its plan in the face of an outcry in English Canada, where some analysts and columnists have raised fears of racism, xenophobia and even fascism. The PQ has also used Mr. Trudeau’s attacks against the charter to bolster its case in Quebec, saying it will be up to Quebeckers to choose between two different visions of society.

The Marois government can be expected to try to benefit if the Conservative government or the NDP eventually join in the attacks. Still, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will protect the fundamental rights of Canadians, while avoiding needless battles with the PQ.

“We know that the separatist government in Quebec would love to pick fight with Ottawa, but that’s not our business,” he said last month.

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