Examining political support for a secular charter in Quebec

Marc-Olivier Laramée

While outrage over the Quebec charter of values has been widely expressed, it seems that in within Quebec politics the charter has more political support than one might think. In fact, almost every party in Quebec agrees there should be a secular charter of some kind though their proposed policies do vary.

The Parti Québecois is the only political party who declined all our interview requests. Therefore here is a brief summary of the proposed law. The application of the charter would first request an amendment of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It would add the religious neutrality of the state and specify the secularity of public institutions. Rules surrounding accommodation requests would be put in place and people in government employ would need to respect the new rules. This includes judges, police officers, all the health, education and daycare workers. There would be no possibility for organizations to be exempt from the new law. Here is a video of the government position.

The Quebec Liberal Party spokesperson for the interview was Deputy Marc Tanguay, Lafontaine County. He is in charge of the Charte de la Langue Française and secularism. The PLQ presents itself as a tolerant party, with provincial Leader Philippe Couillard having denounced the charter early on for being discriminatory. However, the PLQ does support the principle of secularity in general and feels that public services should be received and given without anything covering the face. “We are in favour of the liberty, the respect of individual religious practice. We are specifying the neutrality of institution and state,” said Tanguay. Under a PLQ government, accommodations would be made in the interest of equality.

The Coalition Avenir Québec spokesperson for the interview was Deputy Nathalie Roy, of Montarville. She is in charge of education, communication, culture and the Charte de la Langue Française. “Our position on the Québec charter of values is gathering and applicable. The PQ position is too hard,” she said. The CAQ is in favour of a type of secularism charter though. Their idea of a charter would acknowledge the secularity of the state and that gender equality is essential. For the religious symbols, all state employees in a position of power would not be allowed to wear any visible symbols but the health care system would not be submitted to this law.

The Québec Solidaire spokesperson for the interview was Andrés Fontecilla, candidate in Laurier-Dorion. The position of QS is clear: Quebec needs a secularity charter: “The main difference between our charter and the PQ one is the state people concerned by the law. For the other PQ positions we have almost the same position,” he said. All state employees having ‘coercion power’ would not allowed to wear religious symbols. Québec Solidaire feels that all state services should be given and received without anything covering the face, but, that the health care system should not be affected. In addition, QS is the only party specifying that the crucifix at the parliament should be put away.

Many public actors have taken positions in the debate as well.

Maria Mourani, former member of the Bloc Québécois federal party and Deputy of Ahuntsic, now independent Deputy, said that she thinks Quebec needs “clear rules on the accommodation request. … The Charter is useless, and it would be a better idea to implant recommendations through Ministerial decrees and work rules.” In her opinion, the only restriction that is needed on religious signs is that state employees in a position of power should not be wearing them. In this way, health workers, education workers and other state workers should be able to wear whatever they want.

Meanwhile, at a national level, all the federal political parties have disapproved of or denounced the charter.

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