Montreal

Quebec government to sit through weekend to ram through immigration, religious symbols bills

Premier François Legault plans to delay legislators' summer break to force the passage of two controversial pieces of legislation — one that reforms the province's immigration system and another that bars some civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

Premier Legault will invoke closure to ensure its flagship legislation, bills 9 and 21, pass before summer

Quebec Premier François Legault had accused the opposition of obstructing his two flagship pieces of legislation. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Coalition Avenir Québec government will invoke closure this weekend to force passage of two controversial pieces of legislation — one that reforms the province's immigration system and another that bars civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

The centre-right party will use its majority to shut down debate and call a vote on the religious symbols bill at some point this weekend.

Bill 9, the immigration reform bill, is also to be sent to the floor of the National Assembly for a vote Saturday or Sunday.

For months, Premier François Legault has maintained that passing both bills before the summer was a priority for his majority government.

But with the two bills still in the clause-by-clause consideration phase, and the National Assembly set to break Friday for the summer, that's unlikely to happen without the use of closure.

Legault has accused the opposition of "fooling around" during committee hearings, deliberately delaying passage of what are two flagship pieces of legislation for his government.

Yet both bills have been the subject of widespread criticism, and opposition parties indicated they wanted to continue studying them after the summer break.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette sponsored both Bill 9 and Bill 21. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Why the bills are controversial

Bill 9 will lay the groundwork for a Quebec values test that aspiring immigrants will have to pass in order to secure permanent residency in the province.

In addition, it will junk around 18,000 pending applications for skilled immigrant worker status in Quebec, forcing the applicants to re-apply through a new merit-based system.  

Bill 21 will prevent public schoolteachers, government lawyers, police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols while at work.

The religious symbols bill will also overhaul Quebec's charter of human rights, a quasi-constitutional law that was passed unanimously in 1975.

Minority groups and legal experts are worried the ban on religious symbols will limit employment opportunities for thousands of Quebecers, especially Muslim women who wear the hijab.

The bill, moreover, contains a notwithstanding clause that the government hopes will spare it from any constitutional challenge.

'Are we wasting our time?' asks Liberal whip

The whip for the Opposition Liberals, Sébastien Proulx, had not yet been informed of the government's plans when contacted by Radio-Canada Thursday evening.

MNAs resumed their committee work around 7:30 p.m., but Proulx wondered what the point was if the government had already decided to invoke closure.

"Are we wasting our time?" he asked.

The second-largest opposition party in the legislature, left-leaning Québec Solidaire, said there is no need to bypass normal parliamentary procedure to get the bills passed quickly.

"It takes a darn good reason to muzzle the opposition," the party's co-spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, said on Twitter.

"At the moment, the Legault government doesn't have one. There is no reason to rush when you're removing rights."

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