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Headgear is back at centre stage in Marois’s campaign

Pauline Marois smiles in Montreal during a campaign stop on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

When Pauline Marois unveiled business mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau as a star candidate for the Parti Québécois, he was supposed to be a catch. Mr. Péladeau has turned out to be much more than a shiny prop: At the press conference announcing his candidacy, he said that he was running "to make Quebec a country." And so something that the PQ loves to insinuate, but prefers to avoid talking about in depth, became the central issue of the election.

His off-message remarks have spun Ms. Marois's campaign off-kilter. She's been compelled to submit to a detailed discussion about independence, which laid bare, sounds like a catalogue of delusions: An independent Quebec would have open borders with Canada. Quebec would use the dollar, and have a seat on the Bank of Canada. Independence would not cost billions in lost transfer payments; it would instead eliminate waste and beat back the strong arm of Ottawa.

Quebeckers have never bought this story, and still don't. A recent poll found 41 per cent of respondents would vote in favour of sovereignty, while 59 per cent would vote against it.

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Ms. Marois is now frantically trying to change the channel back to her favourite programming: Quebec's Charter of Values. And she's got a new plot twist: She wants to extend the ban on the display of religious dress beyond those working in government. On Tuesday, she invited the private sector to apply the Charter in private workplaces as well. For those keeping score, that would require a rewriting of Quebec's Human Rights Code, to permit employers to discriminate on the basis of religion. (The PQ is already planning on effectively rewriting the law to permit government to discriminate on the basis of religion.) What's next? Signs above the door of every neighbourhood dépanneur banning anyone wearing a turban, headscarf or kippah?

Ms. Marois's sleight of hand should not go unnoticed. Quebeckers seem to realize how fundamentally bankrupt her vision of a sovereign Quebec really is. They should reach the same conclusion about her Charter: It's dangerous and mean, a political tool that Ms. Marois reaches for when her political fortunes are failing. Quebeckers shouldn't fall for such a cheap trick.

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