Quebec premier shoots back at Manitoba premier's attempt to lure Quebecers

The war of words between the premiers of Quebec and Manitoba over Bill 21, Quebec's secularism law, spiralled Thursday to include craft beer, hockey and the merits of the Prairie province.

Money spent on ads recruiting Quebecers should be put toward French, Dustin Byfuglien, Legault says

Quebec Premier François Legault is taking issue with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister's ad campaign to recruit Quebecers. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

The war of words between the premiers of Quebec and Manitoba over Bill 21, Quebec's secularism law, spiralled Thursday to include craft beer, hockey and the merits of the Prairie province. 

The row started after the Manitoba government purchased print and digital ads in French publications in Quebec attempting to entice people affected by the legislation to move west.

Premier François Legault said Thursday that Premier Brian Pallister should focus on his own affairs.

"I think this money would have been better spent for French services in Manitoba. And I think Mr. Pallister should work to keep his own people in Manitoba, like Dustin Byfuglien with the Jets," Legault said, referring to the NHL defenceman suspended by Winnipeg after not reporting to training camp.

A full-page newspaper advertisement, which ran Thursday, offers civil servants 21 reasons to move to Manitoba — including its "fierce" NHL team, a bevy of affordable housing and a vibrant microbrewery scene. 

The ad promises that, in Manitoba, "diversity is respected and valued." It also points out the province's French population is the "largest west of Ontario," with 32,500 francophones in Winnipeg alone.

The Manitoba government took out full-page ads in Quebec newspapers recruiting civil servants who take issue with Bill 21. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

The ads represent Pallister's latest attack at Quebec over Bill 21. He has repeatedly expressed concern over the law, including at meetings with his fellow premiers.

Bill 21 bans some public-sector employees in positions of authority, including schoolteachers, from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs for Muslim women.

Decision for 'Quebecers and Quebecers only': Legault 

Pallister's Progressive Conservative government also introduced a resolution in the Manitoba Legislature Wednesday to condemn the Quebec law.

The resolution is a non-binding expression of the collective will of legislature members. The Ontario Legislature passed a similar resolution earlier this month. A number of municipalities, including Winnipeg, have also condemned the law.

Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Legault said the province's secularism law is "a decision to be taken by Quebecers and Quebecers only."

He also questioned whether the Manitoba government would try to recruit people from other jurisdictions with legislation around religious clothing.

"Will he do the same thing in Germany, in France, in Switzerland, in Belgium, where they have the same kind of law? I have a tough time following Mr. Pallister."

Pallister told CBC News on Thursday that Manitoba purchased the ads because more bilingual civil service workers are needed in the province as it has two official languages.

"But secondly, of course, we're concerned about Bill 21 in Quebec," he said. "We want to send the message clearly that we support individual rights — individual freedoms —  that are, to our minds, threatened by the bill."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has repeatedly criticized Quebec's Bill 21. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Pallister said he lived in Quebec for a decade and raised his children in the province. He said he loves Quebec, but believes the province is "too good" for this bill. It's a bill, he said, that has become a fundamentally Canadian issue.

"We're stronger as a country and I believe Quebec is stronger as a province when we defend the rights of minorities," he said. "I think we're sending a consistent message here."

Pallister fuelling divisive rhetoric, opposition says

Among the opposition at Quebec's National Assembly, reaction to the Manitoba government's ad campaign was mixed. 

Marwah Rizqy, an MNA for Quebec's Liberals, said the latest controversy is proof the debate over Bill 21 isn't settled, despite the law going into effect last June.

"We're still talking about Bill 21, and there are major consequences. Manitoba, they try to take advantage," she said, pointing out that both Quebec and Manitoba need more workers.

Parti Québécois interim leader Pascal Bérubé, for his part, called the ad "a joke." He said the Manitoba government will have a difficult time luring anyone from Quebec. 

"I'm pretty sure people would rather go to Montreal and Quebec City, and go elsewhere in Quebec, rather than to live in Winnipeg, or Manitoba," said Bérubé, whose party supports the ban on religious symbols.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, which opposes the law, dismissed the ad as pure politics. He said the ad is only "fuelling the rhetoric of Legault and the Parti Québécois," which pits Quebec against the rest of Canada.

"If he thinks that he is helping in any way shape or form anyone here in Quebec who are fighting against that unjust law, he is making a mistake," Nadeau-Dubois said.


Benjamin Shingler is a senior writer based in Montreal. He specializes in health and social issues, and previously worked at The Canadian Press and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.