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PQ irritated at Montreal mayoral race’s focus on secular charter

Jean-Francois Lisee, the Quebec minister responsible for Montreal, walks to a government caucus meeting in Quebec City on Oct. 10, 2013.

JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Parti Québécois is unhappy that its values charter has become an issue in the Montreal municipal election.

All four major candidates for the mayoralty have lined up against the PQ's values charter, which is surfacing as a potential irritant in relations between the municipal and provincial governments.

The PQ is now urging candidates to show a little more discretion.

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Jean-Francois Lisée, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, drew parallels with the debate leading to the 1977 language law, Bill 101. He noted that the mayor at the time stayed out of the debate.

"You won't find the single trace of a public or private position from [then-mayor] Jean Drapeau on Bill 101," Lisee told reporters in Quebec City.

"It was an important debate for his island, for his city of Montreal, but given that there was a division [in public opinion] and that it was under the jurisdiction of the government of Quebec, he abstained from the debate."

Candidates Denis Coderre, Richard Bergeron, Marcel Côté and Melanie Joly have unequivocally dismissed the PQ's values plan and have said they would seek an exemption for their city.

The plan, which is expected to be tabled in the legislature this fall, would prevent people from working in public offices while wearing conspicuous Muslim, Jewish, Sikh or Christian clothing articles.

There has been speculation the PQ might be planning an election on the issue.

The PQ, which has only a minority government, has given no indication that it will water the plan down to gain the approval of opposition parties. In fact, the government has hinted it might even toughen the rules.

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It could cancel the exemption Montreal had planned to use – a move that would set the stage for a confrontation between the province and the next city administration.

As for the next mayor, Lisée suggested he or she will not be able to claim to have a mandate from voters to ignore the values charter.

"The mayor elected Nov. 3 won't be able to say he has a mandate from Montrealers because, since they all have the same position, there's no choice. The pro-charter Montrealers won't be voting as a result of who is for or against the charter because they're all opposed," Lisée said.

"So that question of a mandate won't be clarified on Nov. 3."

He denied trying to silence the mayoral candidates.

"I'm not saying that [they should keep quiet] – but I am saying that one of the great mayors of Montreal, in a similar situation, adopted a different attitude. I thought it was worth inserting that [observation about Drapeau] into the public debate."

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