A Manitoba publicity campaign to contrast the province’s policies with Quebec’s new restrictions on religious dress in some civil-service jobs is drawing criticism from Quebec’s politicians and media commentators.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s $20,000 initiative showed up on Page 2 of Le Devoir on Thursday in the form of a full-page advertisement boasting 21 reasons to move to Manitoba, among them polar bears and sunny skies. Item 21, highlighted in bold, gets to the point of the campaign, stating, “Manitobans welcome diversity and know multiculturalism is a collective and economic force.”
The ad refers to Bill 21, which became law in Quebec earlier this year and bans teachers, police officers and other civil servants from wearing religious symbols, including the Muslim head scarf, Sikh turban and other objects. Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Catholic students, teachers and lawyers have filed at least a half-dozen legal challenges in Quebec courts. One group has asked for an emergency injunction to put the law on hold. The Quebec Court of Appeal is considering that request.
Quebec Premier François Legault said he does not fear Quebeckers will flee en masse to Manitoba. “I think Mr. Pallister would have been better off putting that [ad] money toward French services,” Mr. Legault said.
Mr. Legault, who is a big fan of hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, joked that perhaps Mr. Pallister could also concentrate on helping the Winnipeg Jets retain talent. The Manitoba team has had trouble keeping defencemen in the past year.
Mr. Legault, who will meet Mr. Pallister at a premiers’ meeting next week, reacted quietly compared with other leaders and commentators.
Quebecor media commentator and former politician Mario Dumont called the ad a joke. The ad says Manitobans speak French, but Mr. Dumont pointed out franco-Manitobans had to fight for decades for basic rights. After a long struggle, franco-Manitobans started to gain the right to full French education in the 1970s and to have court cases heard their language in the 1990s. “They fought courageously against their government, and now the Manitoba government presents itself as a defender of rights,” Mr. Dumont said.
Pascal Bérubé, the interim leader of the Parti Québécois separatist party, said Manitoba should “mind their own business. They’re being opportunist, but I’m pretty [confident] Quebec is more attractive than Winnipeg or Manitoba.”
Several jurisdictions including the province of Ontario and city of Calgary have condemned the law, but the Manitoba Premier is among the most persistent critics outside Quebec.
“We respect personal freedoms and rights, and we’re not big on clothing police here,” Mr. Pallister told the Canadian Press as he unveiled the ad campaign. The Manitoba Premier said he is not worried about harming relations with his Quebec counterpart. “It’s too late for that,” he said.
In July, the Premier sent letters to Quebec professional associations and colleges inviting workers to come west. He got no response.
Six years ago when a Parti Québécois government introduced an anti-religious dress code, a hospital in Toronto invited health workers to move west. The PQ minority government called an election, which it lost, before the law was passed.
Mr. Legault said he has often discussed Quebec’s law with Mr. Pallister. “He knows my position, I’ve explained it to him before, it’s all been said,” Mr. Legault said. “The Quebec law is moderate, more moderate than such laws in France, Belgium or Germany. Is he going to start running ads on those countries?”
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