A strongly worded column by a former Quebec premier and sovereigntist has stirred debate over the already-controversial proposed charter of values.
Jacques Parizeau, a decades long and high-profile backer of the sovereignty movement, wrote a column that appeared in Thursday morning's issue of the French newspaper Le Journal de Montréal that criticizes his own party.
Parizeau served as premier from September 1994 to January 1996, and nearly led Quebec to independence in 1995.
He famously blamed the failure of the referendum's yes-side on "money" and the "ethnic votes."
Despite his history, Parizeau had harsh words for the current PQ government, saying it goes too far with its proposed ban on overt religious symbols for employees in the public sector.
'I think when Mr. Parizeau becomes a voice of moderation in the debate, the sovereigntists have a real problem.'- Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party leader
The ban would include kippas, hijabs and any larger-than-average crosses.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who is firmly against the charter, said he was glad to see a growing movement against it.
"I think when Mr. Parizeau becomes a voice of moderation in the debate, the sovereigntists have a real problem," Trudeau said.
"This charter, which discriminates against its citizens because of their religious beliefs, is absolutely unacceptable and more and more people are realizing that."
Fear of Islam to blame, Parizeau says
In his column, Parizeau writes that the separation of church and state in Quebec has long since been established, thanks to the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s.
He accuses the Quebec government of reacting to a growing fear of Islam and its spread.
"For the most part, the only contact that most Quebecers have with the world of Islam is through these images of violence, repeated over and over: wars, riots, bombs, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Boston marathon ... The reaction is obvious: We'll have none of that here!" he writes in Le Journal.
Parizeau on 'ethnic votes'
In an interview with 98.5 FM Montreal on Thursday morning, Jacques Parizeau clarified the controversial comments he made in a 1995 speech following the sovereignty referendum's yes-side loss. He said that when he laid blame for the loss, he said "ethnic votes" and not the ethnic vote, and was referring to a coalition of Greek, Italian and Jewish organizations which were actively campaigning on the no side.
Parizeau said that kind of approach solves nothing.
Instead, he suggests that the PQ limit its proposed charter to an affirmation of the separation between church and state.
As for the controversy over the wearing of religious symbols, Parizeau writes that the ban should only apply to police, prosecutors, judges and anyone in a position of authority.
"I wouldn't go any further than that for the time being."
Parizeau also criticizes the government's decision to leave the crucifix that hangs above the Speaker's chair in Quebec's national assembly. The government has defended its decision to keep the cross in place, saying it's part of the province's history.
Parizeau writes, however: "And the crucifix at the national assembly? Let's hope that next summer, the Speaker of the national assembly, after consulting discreetly with the parties, will move it elsewhere in the building."
PQ minister on Parizeau's comments
Members of the Parti Québécois were quick to react to Parizeau's comments this morning.
CBC's national assembly correspondent Shawn Lyons gathered reaction from PQ cabinet ministers and Premier Pauline Marois on Thursday morning.
Lyons spoke with Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for democratic institutions and active citizenship.
"Drainville said that while yes, the government will consider what Jacques Parizeau had to say ... it will be considered along with the other 25,000 people who left comments on the government's website," Lyons said.