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Quebec Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard says the proposed charter of values is ‘unprecedented discrimination,’ particularly against women.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois is starting to admit that public-sector workers who keep their religious symbols will lose their jobs, a situation Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard described as "unprecedented discrimination against women."

The obvious truth about the proposed charter of values is finally starting to emerge, Mr. Couillard said Wednesday. "It's clear. But if the PQ is saying you can't work with something on your head that doesn't please certain people, the logical conclusion is that you will be fired if you don't do it."

Évelyne Abitbol, a Montreal PQ candidate and staunch advocate for the proposed dress code that would ban symbols such as hijabs and turbans from the public service, told a public forum at a Montreal college on Monday that people who refused to remove their religious dress would be fired after a transition time.

The Parti Québécois has never admitted people could be fired. PQ Leader Pauline Marois repeated Tuesday that she hopes firings won't result, but in an interview with a Montreal radio station she suggested the government "would help transfer them to the private sector."

Ms. Abitbol, who is of Jewish faith, was pressed by Liberal candidate Christine St-Pierre to explain what would happen, for instance, if a health-care worker refused to abide by the proposed charter.

Would a Jewish doctor wearing a kippa be fired, Ms. St-Pierre wanted know.

"Yes," Ms. Abitbol said, adding that a five-year exemption period for hospital, university and municipal employees was part of the legislation on the proposed charter. The bill also proposes a one-year exemption for other public-service employees but would apply immediately to all new employees.

On Tuesday, Ms. Marois attempted to minimize Ms. Abitbol's comments, insisting that the transition period in the bill would help ease in the enforcement of the ban on certain religious symbols. "We don't exclude extending this transition period if needed," she said in a news conference. "I am sure that she [Ms. Abitbol] doesn't want anyone to lose their job."

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Ms. Marois went as far as to propose that a PQ government would help find a new job for any government employee who insists on wearing a religious symbol.

What would you do if a daycare worker refused to abide by the dress code, would she be fired, radio host Paul Arcand asked.

"We would help her. … We wouldn't let her down," Ms. Marois insisted.

Mr. Couillard's Liberals are the only party against any provincially mandated dress code. Other parties would limit the dress code to police officers and other people in positions of authority.

The PQ plan to aid transitions out of the public service "is ludicrous," Mr. Couillard said.

"It's not acceptable. We're against all discrimination. Their plan is unprecedented discrimination, particularly against women. It's not only the truth, it's obvious: if their charter is applied, women will be fired. Not only in health, but in education and daycares."

With a report from Rhéal Séguin.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly had radio host Paul Arcand's first name as Pierre.

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