The Parti Québécois government's proposal of a Charter of Values that bans public servants from wearing religious garments has deeply divided Quebeckers but has been better received by francophones and has made the PQ more popular, a new poll shows.
According to the Léger Marketing survey, the charter idea has boosted support for the PQ by six points, to 33 per cent, since elements began leaking in August. In the last poll before the charter was in the public debate in June, PQ support was at 27 per cent.
However, the provincial Liberals remained the choice of 36 per cent of decided voters, meaning that an election now would be a toss-up between the two leading parties and could end with another minority government.
The online survey was conducted between Sept. 13 and 14, after the proposal was unveiled, triggering an emotional debate.
The poll shows that 43 per cent of respondents supported the charter while 42 per cent were against.
However, in the key francophone electorate, the plan had the backing of 49 per cent of respondents while 34 per cent were opposed.
Among anglophones, only 15 per cent favoured the charter while 72 per cent were against.
Support for the proposal appeared to have diminished.
In August, when parts of the plan were first leaked, about 57 per cent of respondents in a previous Léger poll said the charter was a good idea.
The charter has been seen by many observers as a wedge-politic tactic targeting francophone voters in swing ridings in Quebec's outlying regions.
In at least one key electoral battleground, the suburbs around Montreal, the proposal was well received. On the Montreal south shore, the charter garnered 45-per-cent support while in areas north of Montreal, 48 per cent of respondents were favourable.
The charter was also welcome in western Quebec (from the Outaouais to the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region), where 46 per cent of respondents said they were in favour.
The two largest cities in the province however didn't welcome the proposal.
On the island of Montreal, the most multi-ethnic part of Quebec, 40 per cent were for the charter and 49 per cent against. In Quebec City, support was even lower, at 37 per cent, while 48 per cent said they were against.
One criticism of the PQ proposal is that its attempt to remove conspicuous religious signs from the public space stops short of banning some traditional Roman Catholic artifacts such as the crucifix hanging in the Quebec National Assembly. The poll shows that Quebeckers still remain attached to such Christian symbols, which the PQ said should be exempted because they have a "heritage" value. Asked about the crucifix in their legislature, 54 per cent of respondents said they agreed it should remain, and only 38 per cent disagreed.
To conduct the poll, Léger Marketing queried 2,000 Quebeckers who were previously recruited to be part of its Internet polling panel. Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online polls but Léger said a probabilistic sample of similar size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.