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Bouchard joins growing chorus against PQ’s secular charter

Lucien Bouchard poses in his offices in Montreal on February 14, 2013.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Premier Pauline Marois offered no indication she would shift course on her government's religious headgear ban after sustaining a second volley of criticism in as many days from a former leader of her party.

Former Parti Québécois premier Lucien Bouchard entered the crowded field of detractors of Ms. Marois's secular charter Friday by saying the proposal was divisive, harmful to Quebec's reputation, and played to base sentiments.

He endorsed the views of another ex-PQ premier, Jacques Parizeau, who a day earlier urged Ms. Marois to modify the charter and rein in its scope. The former premiers – both senior statesmen of the Quebec sovereignty movement – join Quebec hospitals, Montreal mayoral candidates, Montreal's main teachers' union and federal leaders, among others, in opposing the headgear ban.

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And now former prime minister Jean Chrétien has touched on the controversy. In brief remarks, Mr. Chrétien said Thursday he didn't want to comment on the debate but noted he was minister of justice during the crafting of the Canadian Charter of Rights. The PQ's charter "has to conform to that," he said.

"I'm for equality in all its forms," Mr. Chrétien said in response to a question from L'Écho de Trois-Rivières. "I fought all my life for that."

Despite widespread criticism, polls suggest the secular charter is backed so far by a majority of francophone Quebeckers, whose electoral weight means they can sway the outcome of elections.

The minority Marois government appears to be trying to use the charter as a wedge issue to win a majority; it has given no sign of backing off the controversial headgear ban and has even dropped hints it would toughen the charter by removing opting-out possibilities.

Both Ms. Marois and Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the charter, have also suggested the former premiers' opinions would be taken into account on the same footing as the 25,000 people who have left comments on the Quebec government's Charter of Values website.

"We will take the time to properly analyze all viewpoints that have been expressed," Ms. Marois said Friday. "What's certain is that we're moving ahead with a bill that will let us properly define the rules of co-existence. I think it will unite rather than divide us."

Both Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Bouchard advocate a religious headgear ban limited to figures in authority, such as judges and police officers. Mr. Bouchard said the PQ government could reach a political consensus with such a move. As it stands now, the proposal, to be tabled as a bill this fall, is splitting the province apart.

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"Look how it's dividing Montreal and the regions, minorities against one another, even within families we're seeing quarrels on subjects that never seemed to pose a problem before," Mr. Bouchard told La Presse on Friday.

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