Yet another former Parti Québécois premier has stepped forward to ask the Pauline Marois government to soften the tone of its proposed charter of Quebec values.
Bernard Landry — Quebec premier from 2001 until 2003 — has not been as vociferous in his criticism of what's been proposed as his predecessors, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard.
Landry said, however, he hopes to see changes in those proposals once a draft of the charter is tabled.
Jacques Parizeau, Quebec premier from 1994 until 1996, launched the opening salvo against the Marois initiative yesterday.
The man who brought the PQ closest to a win for its sovereignty cause in 1995 wrote in an op-ed piece in Le Journal de Montréal that “Quebec has never before legislated anything religious out of the public space."
Parizeau called for a secular dress code to apply only to those in authority, such as judges, police officers and Crown prosecutors.
That was the position that commissioners Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor took in their final report on reasonable accommodation for religious and cultural minorities in Quebec in 2008, and it's the position echoed by Gérard Bouchard's brother, former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard, today.
Brian Mulroney weighs in
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is adding his voice to those criticizing Quebec's proposed charter of values.
In an interview with Conrad Black on Vision TV, Mulroney said all the protections for religious freedom and a secular state are already in place.
"If you want to build a dynamic, inclusive society, you've got all the instruments at hand," he said. The proposed charter "limits that and sends out what I consider to be a negative, inappropriate signal to immigrants and to the vast immigrant communities that are bringing prosperity to Canada."
Compromise 'would be a triumph,' Bouchard says
Bouchard told the Montreal newspaper La Presse that a ban of overt religious symbols should be limited to people in positions of authority and not to all people in the public service.
Bouchard, Quebec’s PQ premier from 1996 to 2001, said that an amended charter would likely be an opportunity for the Marois government to “hit a home run.”
"It is possible — I would even say probable — that the national assembly would vote unanimously to a compromise. It would be a triumph. Instead of dividing Quebecers, it would unite them,” said Bouchard.
“It would show that we are able to come together around key issues."
"What Parizeau wrote is common sense. It brings us back to the true values of tolerance and openness of Quebec society," said Bouchard.
Bouchard said he believes the Marois government should ban the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols only for authority figures such as police, judges, prosecutors and correctional officers.
Bouchard also recommended removing the crucifix from the national assembly.
That, too, was a key recommendation of the Bouchard-Taylor commission, which suggested relocating the crucifix from the place it now hangs, above the Speaker's chair, to a place elsewhere in the building, with a mention of its heritage value.
'Do we want to be more Catholic — excuse me, more heritage-minded — than the bishops?' — Former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard
Even Quebec's Assembly of Catholic Bishops supports the removal of the crucifix, which Bouchard noted dryly in his interview in La Presse.
"Do we want to be more Catholic — excuse me, more heritage-minded — than the bishops?" Bouchard asked.
Landry is more tempered in his criticism of the proposed charter, calling the PQ government "brave" and "courageous" for wading into what he says is a necessary debate.
He admits he has misgivings about what's been proposed so far, particularly the name the government's given the proposed charter.
"It's not [a charter of] Quebec values," Landry said. "It's a charter on secularism."
He called the ejection of Maria Mourani from the Bloc Québécois caucus "unfortunate collateral" in the bitter debate.
Mourani, the member of Parliament for Montreal's Ahuntsic riding, was kicked out of her caucus for criticizing the charter. She said today she likes what she has heard from two former premiers.
“It's good to hear about this, and I hope it will change the position, the next project of this charter, I hope,” said Mourani.
Mourani said the way the charter stands now, it sends a negative message to Muslim women.
Marois doesn't blink
Premier Marois appears to be taking the comments from a growing list of her predecessors in stride.
Marois will only say their voices are welcome additions to the debate, which has garnered 10,000 comments on a government website promoting the charter.
"I appreciate their point of view," Marois said. "I respect this point of view. But we will have to think about the issue. We will have to do the summaries of all the points of view we have received until now."
"In some weeks we will present the project as we will hope it will be accepted by the population of Quebec."