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Politics Diversity welcome in B.C., Clark says as provinces weigh in on Quebec charter

‘To folks in Quebec, who might want to live in a more diverse society, we’d love to have you come out here,’ Ms. Clark said on Sept. 10, 2013, when asked about Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is inviting Quebeckers dismayed by the Parti Québécois' secular charter to move west to her province.

"To folks in Quebec, who might want to live in a more diverse society, we'd love to have you come out here," Ms. Clark said Tuesday when asked about the proposed Charter of Values that would prohibit Quebec public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, including turbans, yarmulkes or large crosses.

The B.C. Liberal Premier told the ethnically diverse crowd at a news conference announcing a trade mission to China, South Korea and Japan in November that British Columbia will "find every opportunity that we can to make sure we welcome diversity here."

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While Ms. Clark jumped into the debate, Nova Scotia's NDP Premier Darrell Dexter stuck to the sidelines. Mr. Dexter, who is in the midst of an election campaign, had just finished his first debate against his two opponents when he was asked about the proposed charter.

"I'm going to leave that to Quebeckers," Mr. Dexter said. "It's an issue for Quebec and I think the people there will deal with it in a way that's appropriate." All the other east coast premiers were either unavailable or refusing to comment on the issue.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said this week that she would fight any attempt to bring similar legislation to her province. And on Tuesday, two backbenchers entered the debate.

New Democrat MPP Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and carries a kirpan, said a law like Quebec's would prevent him from attending the legislature.

"It's divisive. It's not the type of politics that politicians should be doing. It's creating divisions where we should be creating synergies and creating more unity and bringing people together," he said.

Ontario Liberal MPP Monte Kwinter, meanwhile, tabled a motion, to be voted on later this week, which would explicitly promise the province will never ban religious symbols in public places. Mr. Kwinter said the move was necessary to reassure people who are considering moving to Ontario that what is happening in Quebec will not happen in his province.

In Alberta and Saskatchewan, government officials e-mailed in almost identical responses, saying their governments are not considering a similar charter.

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This is in contrast to Saskatoon's mayor, Donald Atchison, a dedicated Lutheran, who believes Quebec's proposed policy puts the province on the wrong track.

"I thought we were supposed to celebrate our diversity and our cultures," he said in an interview. "And what it looks like to me is they want to make everybody one flavour. I just don't appreciate that at all."

Similar policies would receive an unwelcoming reception in Saskatchewan's largest city, he said. "It would be less than chilly here in Saskatoon," Mr. Atchison said. "Frigid."

Manitoba joined the western provinces in dismissing Quebec's proposed policy.

"Our government is committed to promoting diversity and fighting against discrimination that hurts people and communities. Banning a headscarf or a yarmulke does nothing more than infringe on religious freedom, and we absolutely won't go down that path," Matt Williamson, a government spokesman, said in a statement. "One of the things that makes Manitoba great is our respect for and promotion of diversity. We're going to keep it that way."

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