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Quebecs Premier Pauline Marois speaks with Minister of Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville during a photo-op to present the Quebec Charter of Values at the National Assembly in Quebec City on Sept. 10, 2013.MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters

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In the lead up to the unveiling of the Parti Québécois government's Charter of Values, critics who were anglophone or from the rest of Canada were written off by charter supporters as francophobes and Quebec-bashers.

Yet there were strong words in many Quebec francophone media outlets against the proposal and reaction to Tuesday's official announcement has mostly been unfavourable.

While the Quebec punditry's negative comments tended to focus on inconsistencies in the proposal, faulting it for being impractical and calling it a half-baked electoral ploy, some acknowledged that it also appealed to the worst instincts in people.

"Many reactions to a charter on secularism are extremely xenophobic," wrote Jean-Jacques Samson, a Journal de Québec columnist. "There are many old-stock Quebeckers, francophones clamouring that if the veiled ones don't want to dress like us, they can go back to their countries."

He described the proposal as a crude form of wedge politics by a minority government. "It aims to inconvenience the opposition and to track votes in outlying areas, where there are few immigrants but where their arrival in large numbers in Quebec is most feared."

Sociologist Gérard Bouchard, who co-presided at a high-profile commission on the issue, raised similar concerns in an opinion piece published in La Presse.

"It is imperative that Quebeckers be proud of the way they resolved this issue. Otherwise those demons will haunt us for a long time," wrote Mr. Bouchard.

The proposal, however, does not meet that lofty standard, he said. "This will suppress a fundamental right without a sufficient motive, will set up minorities against the majority and create a harmful rift in our society."

Political scientist Josée Legault, a staunch sovereigntist, found the proposal incoherent, arbitrary and absurd – "Kafka meets Monty Python," she wrote in a blog for the magazine L'Actualité.

Ms. Legault, a one-time adviser to Bernard Landry when he was PQ leader and premier, said the proposed charter was "an escape hatch," an electoral strategy that stemmed from the PQ's decision to focus on identity politics following its poor showing in the 2007 election.

She noted that, unlike past debates on language, the government could not produce any metrics to show that there was a crisis that needed to be addressed urgently. "They didn't do it for two reasons. First, because there is no evidence. Second, because by surfing atop a view that's already popular in the polls, it felt no need to prove an objective need to ban religious need," Ms. Legault wrote.

"Drainville acknowledged himself that he had no idea how many employees would be affected by the ban."

Another L'Actualité blogger, political journalist Alec Castonguay, said the government had over-reached in banning public workers from wearing conspicuous religious gear. As a result, the PQ had to insert a right of withdrawal for hospitals and municipal governments, otherwise Quebec's big cities would lose hundreds of civil servants, nurses and doctors.

"This will be a two-tiered charter, with necessary guidelines but undermined by many contradictions," Mr. Castonguay wrote.

He said the minority government could have found legislative support with a more modest plan. Instead, "by rushing head first into a ban of religious gear in the public and para-public sector, it consciously picked the longest, bumpiest road," Mr. Castonguay wrote. "It's hard not to see here political and electoral aims."

The charter of values had consistently been criticized by columnists and editorial writers at La Presse.

La Presse columnist Michèle Ouimet wrote that the government was "playing with a powder keg" and accused the PQ of trying to "charm the old-stock francophone electorate that's allergic to change."

La Presse editorial writer François Cardinal posted on Twitter that the proposal was for the PQ a double victory in wedge politics, setting of the rest of Canada against Quebec and Montreal against the rest of the province.

The charter had defenders among those who had long complained about the growing presence of Muslim and Jewish headgear in Quebec.

The radio host Benoît Dutrizac, on being told that it would be intolerable that hijab-wearing daycare workers could lose their jobs, replied "seeing children in the care of indoctrinated people is what I find intolerable."

Le Journal de Montréal columnist Richard Martineau praised the minister in charge of the proposal, Bernard Drainville, for acting in a preventive fashion "before the river overflows its banks."

He said critics have demonized an idea full of common sense. "Do you want us to become like England and the Netherlands and laugh while religion advances and all freedoms, save for the holy freedom of faith, have to take a back seat?"

The reaction was tepid at the daily Le Devoir. Editor-in-chief Bernard Descôteaux wrote that the debate is necessary and it is to Quebeckers to decide the matter, not to the Harper government, which has threatened to refer the matter to the courts to test the charter's constitutionality.

However, he added that "the government's tack has flagrant incoherences. It sets up secularism and the equality between men and women as intrinsic values to Quebec society and would like to see them as fundamental principles. However the withdrawal right it introduced cheapens this. How else can we perceive that teachers are required not to wear conspicuous religious signs but municipal workers could evade that ... there is here a discrimination that is hard to support."

Le Devoir political columnist Michel David also noted the contradictions and impractical aspects of the proposal. Deciding what is conspicuously religious could lead to much quibbling and the idea that elected officials would be exempted from the ban gives off an "unpleasant feeling of iniquity," he wrote.

Mr. David predicted that the current proposal might not survive an eventual legislative debate. "Quebeckers might be worried about their identity but they don't like disorder and divisiveness."

Tu Thanh Ha, a Globe reporter in Toronto, previously reported for many years from Quebec.

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