The House

Could Quebec's secularism law resonate in the rest of Canada?

This week on The House, we look at how the rest of Canada views Quebec's religious symbols bill. We do a feature interview with Elizabeth May on the Green Party platform. Two candidates debate the merits and pitfalls of addressing the opioid crisis. Finally, two journalists break down the French language debate from this week and the ramifications of a Bloc surge.
csdm protest bill 21 (Radio-Canada)
Listen to the full episode52:33

There may be more support for Quebec's controversial Secularism law across the country than some Canadians would care to admit.

The legislation, which came into effect in June and bans teachers, police officers and other provincial employees from wearing religious symbols at work, is popular among Quebecers, but, according to Angus Reid Institute pollster Shachi Kurl, some residents of other provinces would welcome similar legislation where they live.

"In every region of the country, no fewer than one-third of English Canadians say, 'Yes, we would support our own provincial government implementing such a law,'" Kurl told CBC Radio's The House.

Support was highest among people surveyed in Alberta and Ontario, she said.

There has been no suggestion legislators in either province are considering such a move.

All four of Canada's main federal party leaders —  Liberal Justin Trudeau, Conservative Andrew Scheer, New Democrat Jagmeet Singh and the Green party's Elizabeth May — have denounced the secularism law.

But they have stopped short of committing to challenging it.

That upsets Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, a Brampton regional councillor.

"I'm disappointed in all the federal party leaders because I don't think they've taken enough stance on it," he told The House. 

He said the law "normalizes" discrimination.

"Where I'm from in Brampton, people are worried that it might spread," he said.

"Who knows where it could go to and what I'm hearing is that the federal leaders are not taking a strong role on it and that's worrisome for a lot of people."

But the party leaders all find themselves in a difficult position, said Jason Lietaer, president of the communications firm Enterprise and a former Conservative Party campaign strategist.

They do not want to attack the law too harshly and risk upsetting voters whose support they need on Oct. 21 if they hope to win seats in Quebec and form the next government, he said.

"I can understand why all of them are punting it from a political point of view, but from a principle and philosophical view, it's hard to watch," Lietaer said.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi wants the federal party leaders to confront Quebec's Secularism Law, often referred to as Bill 21. The law bans teachers, cops and other provincial employees from wearing religious symbols at work and it's popular among Quebecers. But outside that province, Bill 21 faces strong condemnation. So why aren't the federal party leaders vowing to go to court to defend religious freedoms? And if they did... would it be a vote-getter in the rest of Canada? Chris Hall explores those questions with pollster Shachi Kurl, Brampton councillor Gurpreet Dillon and strategist Jason Lietaer. 9:42

When it comes to a ban on religious symbols in the workplace, opinions differ based on the particular symbol in question.

In Quebec and the rest of Canada, for example, a majority of people surveyed said public employees should be allowed to wear a crucifix while on the job. But support drops when the symbols in question relates to the Islamic faith.

"What we're really talking about is a ban of Muslim religious symbols, particularly the niqab and the burka," Kurl said. 

This isn't the first time an opinion poll has suggested Canadians are conflicted on diversity and immigration.

A poll commissioned by CBC News earlier this year found 65 per cent of all Canadians said they agreed with the statement "we have gone too far in accommodating every group in society" -- a view held most strongly in Alberta and Quebec.

"Canadians in general as not as tolerant as they like to think they are. We have some difficult conversations to have," said Kurl, adding the Angus Reid Institute will release the results of a comprehensive study that canvassed Canadians on their attitudes toward immigration on Monday.

May not ruling out supporting Liberal or Conservative minority governments — yet

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May takes part in The National Presents: Face to Face With the Federal Party Leaders — a broadcast event giving undecided voters a chance to speak one-on-one with the federal party leaders. May recently cited one of her personal influences as Jesus Christ. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Elizabeth May says she's not ruling out working with any of the parties who might form a minority government after election day.

May said it's impossible to predict what kind of cooperation could emerge after voting day on Oct. 21 — softening her previous vow that she wouldn't support a minority government that didn't share Green values on the environment.

"One can never pre-judge this," May told host Chris Hall.

When asked which parties she could see herself aligning with, she said she's looking for a partner that is just as committed to fight climate change.

"I don't assume that the Liberals and the Conservatives are are dedicated to failing on the climate crisis."

But she made another pitch for progressive voters to cast their ballots for the Greens.

"We just know that the Liberals and the Conservatives and the NDP will let us down."

May previously told CBC News she would refuse to prop up a minority government that moves forward with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Asked what success would look like for the Greens on election day and her potential plans to step down as leader, May compared Greens to the hobbit characters in the Lord of the Rings novels.

"We Greens don't think about this in terms of political power," she said. 

"If there's if there's a ring that corrupts, you really want to have a hobbit in the room. Don't give it to a Liberal or Conservative, give it to the Greens."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May wants the 2019 federal election campaign to be a referendum on climate change and polls suggest Canadians are increasingly concerned about the consequences of a warming planet, which appears to be prompting many to give the Greens a closer look. But after 13 years at the helm of Green Party can Elizabeth May finally capture enough votes to push the agenda? Chris Hall sits down with Elizabeth May to find out how she’s coping with the added scrutiny this time around. 11:25

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