An Ontario hospital is trying to lure Quebec-trained health-care workers by tapping into the controversy surrounding Quebec’s values charter.
Lakeridge Health is planning to run the ad, which features a woman wearing a headscarf, in a McGill University student newspaper.
The ad says: "We don’t care what’s on your head. We care what’s in it."
"We thought, given the controversy that's going on in Quebec … maybe this would be an opportunity to create some awareness of what Lakeridge Health is," said Kevin Empey, chief executive of the Oshawa-based hospital.
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Empey said the hospital is in need of qualified medical staff and they chose to target the ad at McGill students because they have a strong medical program.
"Our hospital workforce and doctors are slowly becoming more diverse so we partly mean it as a signal of we're open and we're willing and there's no issue in Durham Region, in Lakeridge," he said.
The McGill University Health Centre's CEO, Normand Rinfret, said in a written statement that the hospital network was not ready to take a firm position on the charter of Quebec values until they have had time to review the proposal and understand the ramifications.
"It goes without saying, however, that our priority is to provide the population we serve with exceptional care that shows due consideration for cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds," wrote Rinfret.
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said the ads were upsetting to him and was worried about the image being projected outside of Quebec.
"It’s painful to me as a Quebecer to see that this is the conclusion that people will reach outside our borders," said Couillard.
"I hope that the government will realize the potential damage that this created and change their choice."
Quebec’s proposed secular values charter, announced earlier this week by the Parti Québécois government, includes a provision that would prohibit public employees from wearing obvious religious symbols while performing their official duties.
That includes the wearing of kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and "large" crosses by civil servants while they are on the job.
The plan would apply to judges, police, prosecutors, public daycare workers, teachers, school employees, hospital workers and municipal personnel.
Elected members of the national assembly would not be subject to the regulations.
Criticism of the proposal was swift and ranged from allegations of racism to concern that it could have a significant impact on immigration of skilled and experienced workers to the province or a flood of them out of Quebec.
Despite that mounting criticism, the government has defended the proposition, citing the need for a unified Quebec identity and for public employees to be perceived as neutral while at work.
The bill has been endorsed by Quebec’s largest public service union, which likened the prohibition of overt religious symbols to the existing rules against expressing political sentiments on the job.
Though no timeline has been announced, the bill is expected to be tabled sometime in the coming months.
The Lakeridge Health ads will start running next week.