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Politics Manitoba premier to raise Quebec religious symbol law with western premiers

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister responds to questions during a news conference at the first ministers meeting in Montreal on Dec. 7, 2018.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he will be seeking a joint response to Quebec’s new religious symbols law when western premiers meet on Thursday in Edmonton.

“That is, certainly to my mind, dangerous and un-Canadian and deserves to be opposed,” Pallister said in an interview.

“We are not a two-tier rights country.

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“We’re not a country that celebrates sameness. We celebrate diversity and we need to make sure that we don’t restrict people’s freedoms, whether it’s speech or movement or religion.”

The Quebec law prohibits teachers, police officers and other public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, and critics say it unfairly targets Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities.

Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s not government’s responsibility, or in its interest, to legislate on what people should be wearing. But he did not specify what action his government would take to protect minority rights.

Pallister said response from federal politicians has probably been muted, in part, because of the looming national election in October.

“They don’t wish to irritate the province of Quebec, but Quebec is one province in a beautiful country,” he said.

“Canada is a beacon around the world for supporting freedoms, not suppressing them.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will host the premiers’ meeting – his first since his United Conservatives won the provincial election in April.

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He will host leaders from the four western provinces and three northern territories.

It will also be the first time Kenney has spoken face to face with B.C. Premier John Horgan since the Alberta election.

B.C. and Alberta have been locked in a dispute over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. While Horgan has said he’ll use every tool in his tool box to oppose it, the federal government reapproved the multibillion-dollar project last week.

Kenney’s first act as premier was to have proclaimed into law a bill to reduce oil and gas shipments to B.C. and elsewhere to forcefully push back, if necessary, against B.C.’s position.

Horgan said he expects to see the premiers do just as they did last year – work in co-operation on key issues.

“Will we discuss energy issues? I rather expect we will,” said Horgan. “But I can’t predict how that will go and I’m sure I’ll be asked about it after it’s over. And I’ll be happy to give an answer then.”

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Kenney said he will look for common ground with Horgan.

“Both of our economies were built on resources. We don’t need Albertans and British Columbians going at it in some kind of phony war,” said Kenney.

“My pitch to John is very simply – listen to British Columbians. Every poll shows about two-to-one support of British Columbians for (Trans Mountain).”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the meeting will be a key launch point to getting work done on issues prior to a meeting of all the country’s premiers in Saskatoon July 9 to 11.

“These issues include reducing barriers to internal trade between provinces, encouraging responsible development of our sustainably produced energy resources, and reducing the red tape placed on our industries by working together on fair tax and regulatory regimes that are consistent throughout our provinces,” Moe’s office said in a statement.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, in a statement, said he will be advancing the importance of strengthening Canada’s position in the Arctic.

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Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq’s said his focus will also be strengthening the Arctic, along with climate change and addressing mental health and addictions issues.

Yukon’s Sandy Silver said he looks forward to establishing shared priorities in advance of the Saskatoon meeting.

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