Bloc Québécois expels MP over secular charter comments
Maria Mourani, who represents Ahuntsic, now an Independent
The Bloc Québécois has expelled MP Maria Mourani from its caucus over critical comments she made about the proposed Quebec charter of values.
In an interview with Radio-Canada on Wednesday, Mourani said Quebec's charter of values was a political miscalculation on the part of Premier Pauline Marois.
"We will not achieve political independence in Quebec without including everyone, without Montreal — it's impossible," Mourani said.
But Bloc Québécois Leader Daniel Paillé said on Thursday that despite what Mourani would have Quebecers believe, the charter of values is far from being "a serious strategic error on the part of the sovereignty movement or even worse, a demonstration of ethnic nationalism."
In an interview with Radio-Canada on Thursday, Paillé said Mourani's comments crossed the line and are "irreconcilable" with the party's position.
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Mourani was making the comments as spokeswoman of a pro-sovereigntist group in favour of secularism which calls itself "Les indépendantistes pour une laïcité inclusive."
Paillé said he expelled Mourani from the caucus after asking the MP from Ahuntsic to step down as spokeswoman of the group — something she refused to do, he says.
"Quebecers have the right to expect that all federal parties will respect their right to debate … which is what the Bloc Québécois is doing, and that's why we clearly support the proposals made by the Parti Québécois," Paillé said.
Charter sparks controversy
On Tuesday, the Quebec government unveiled a proposed charter of values that would ban public employees from wearing religious symbols such kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and "large" crosses.
The Parti Québécois minister in charge of the charter, Bernard Drainville, refused to comment on the Bloc's decision to kick out Mourani from its caucus, saying only that everyone has a right to their opinion.
In an interview scheduled to air on CBC Radio's The House this Saturday, Drainville told guest host Chris Hall that "we respect everyone's right to have a different opinion and there are sovereigntists who do not agree with what we are putting forward, I admit it. And I don't have a problem with it."
"There's quite a few people who are not necessarily Péquistes or sovereigntists who agree with us," Drainville said.
The federal government has vowed to challenge the proposed charter of values if it violates the rights of Canadians.
"If it's determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously," Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told reporters Tuesday.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau firmly rejected the proposed Quebec charter of values.
Sovereigntists denounce secular charter
The BQ issued a written statement on Tuesday saying it welcomed Quebec's proposal while reaffirming its own position, which dates back to 2007.
The BQ has maintained all along that only public employees working in positions of state authority — such as police, judges, attorneys, and prison guards — should be barred from wearing religious symbols. Other public employees, such as teachers and doctors, would be excluded from the ban.
But on Tuesday, after the Quebec government unveiled the details of its proposed charter of values, 18 members of the pro-sovereigntist group, including Mourani, signed an open letter denouncing the charter, saying it stigmatizes certain communities including women.
On Wednesday, the BQ appeared to distance itself from its original position when it issued a second statement saying it fully supports Quebec's proposal. But the party made no mention of its 2007 position.
Paillé told Radio-Canada on Thursday that it's the BQ's job to "defend without compromise" Quebec's charter of values in Ottawa.
Mourani 'collateral damage'
In an interview with CBC's Radio Noon in Montreal, former Quebec premier Bernard Landry said he was sad to hear that Mourani, whom he considers a friend and militant of the sovereigntist movement, had been expelled from the BQ.
Landry told host Bernard Saint-Laurent that Mourani's expulsion from caucus was "collateral damage" in a debate, which he dubbed "necessary in a democracy."
Trudeau, on the other hand, applauded Mourani for speaking her mind.
In a post on Twitter, Trudeau said "Bravo to Maria Mourani for standing up to this divisive proposal. Mme. Marois has seriously underestimated Quebecers’ respect for each other."
In a separate interview on CBC's Radio Noon in Montreal, Jean Dorion, a former Bloc MP and a signatory to the open letter, denounced Mourani's expulsion pointing out the fact that she was the only Montreal-area Bloc MP left, not to mention the only Bloc MP from an ethnic community.
Dorion told Saint-Laurent that Quebec can not achieve independence without Montreal.
"The future of Quebec lies in Montreal, in the youth and immigrants. And those are the groups they are due to alienate with that project," Dorion said referring to Quebec's proposed charter of values.
Mourani, who is of Lebanese origin, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2006. She ran for the leadership of the party in 2011 after Gilles Duceppe resigned as leader following the party's crushing defeat in the last federal election.
The member for Ahuntsic will now sit as an Independent MP in the House of Commons, joining former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber and former NDP MP Bruce Hyer.
That will leave the Bloc Québécois with four MPs in Ottawa, including former NDP MP Claude Patry, who crossed the floor earlier this year.
Paillé, the leader, has yet to run for a seat in the House of Commons.
Mourani announced that she will comment publicly on Friday about the controversy.
You can hear the full interview with Parti Québécois Minister Bernard Drainville on the subject of the controversial Quebec charter of values on CBC Radio's The House this Saturday after the 9 a.m. news.