The House

Will Quebec's Bill 21 factor into the federal election?

This week on The House, three Quebec MPs join us to debate the province's controversial religious symbols legislation. We wade into the week's drama between the Greens and NDP in New Brunswick. Finally, Jean Charest talks about the appointment of a new ambassador to China.
A woman wears a hijab while draped with a Quebec flag during a demonstration to protest against the Quebec government's Bill 21 in Montreal, Monday, June 17, 2019. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

While not one of Canada's political parties intends to make Quebec's controversial Bill 21 a key issue during the upcoming federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, if re-elected, would ensure Quebeckers' Charter rights aren't trampled by the provincial law that prohibits teachers, police officers, judges and other provincial employees from wearing religious symbols at work, Liberal MP Marc Miller told The House.

"You can expect the prime minister to stand up and represent interests that are of potentially federal jurisdiction, which includes the place of religion under the Constitution and the role of gender equality in the application of those Charter rights, which is not immunized by the use of the notwithstanding clause," Miller said.

Quebec's National Assembly used the notwithstanding clause to pass the bill into law in June. The legislation also includes rules that would require citizens receiving a public service to uncover their faces for identification or security purposes.

The new law is facing a constitutional challenge already.

Conservative MP Gerard Deltell said his party would never enact similar legislation at the federal level. But he defended the provincial government's right to do so in Quebec.

"The government of Quebec has (the) full right to do whatever they want in their own jurisdiction based on the rule of the law," he said.

Guy Caron, an NDP MP, said his leader Jagmeet Singh, a practising Sikh who wears a turban, is "uniquely placed to understand the issues of discrimination."

"We disagree with the essence of Bill 21 but once again, because of the notwithstanding clause, we respect the right of Quebeckers and the National Assembly in this matter," Caron told The House.

Human rights advocates want federal party leaders to go to Quebec during the election to denounce the province’s secularism law barring government workers from wearing religious symbols. Chris Hall hears from a teacher who says she feels forgotten by the federal leaders… and from three MPs in the province -- Liberal Marc Miller, Conservative Gerard Deltell NDP Guy Caron.

Amrit Kaur, a Quebec Sikh woman who wears a turban, relocated to British Columbia in order to work as a teacher. She said the unwillingness of federal political leaders to tackle Bill 21 head-on is disheartening.

"I think they just don't want to provoke Quebec," she told The House from her classroom in Surrey, B.C.

"And it's sad that this fear of losing Quebec is making them compromise their core values."

Accusations and confusion over NDP members defecting to the Greens

Jonathan Richardson was the federal NDP's executive member for Atlantic Canada, until Tuesday. He's part of an ongoing spat between the NDP and the Greens. (CBC)

The Greens and the NDP are sparring over a group of New Brunswick candidates who are jumping ship from one party to the other.

This week, the names of 14 former NDP provincial candidates were released at a news conference announcing they would be defecting to the Green Party.

Hours later, several of those candidates said the statement shouldn't have included them and they were still loyal to the NDP. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Green Leader Elizabeth May of being dishonest. In response, May accused the NDP of using strong-arm tactics to convince some of the candidates to stay with his party.

May told The House she was not involved in the defections and she herself is confused about how the events transpired.

Ultimately, though, she said she was pleased with the news.

"I am most happy to welcome people to the Green Party if they meet our values," she told host Chris Hall. 

But mixed in with the candidates was Jonathan Richardson, who suggested some New Brunswickers were turned off the NDP because of Singh's ethnic and religious background — a notion federal New Democrats have rejected.

"That's crazy talk you hear at a Tim Hortons. That's not what our base thinks and any credible candidate shuts that down," MP Charlie Angus told The House.

"I'm really surprised that Elizabeth May either got taken for a ride or is sending a message out there (that), 'Hey our party's open, come to us, we'll take whoever.'"

This week a group of former provincial NDP candidates in New Brunswick apparently defected to the Green Party. The actual number of defectors was unclear throughout the week as accusations and counter-accusations flew between the two parties that could be vying for third place in the federal. Chris Hall tries to make sense of it all with the NDP’s Charlie Angus

May said she's not upset with any of the NDP candidates who changed their minds. 

"I don't bear any of them any ill will."

Singh has yet to visit the Atlantic province after almost two years of leading the party. Angus admitted it's not an ideal situation, but that doesn't mean New Brunswick is closed to the NDP.

"There's no way that people in New Brunswick are as close-minded as it's being claimed by the Green Party."

May said the fact Singh hasn't visited New Brunswick is a knock against the party. 

"These people have been desperate to get [Singh] to come and show the flag and help them out. And that's why they came to us because I've been in New Brunswick." 

Despite that, Angus said his party isn't giving up — in New Brunswick or anywhere else.

"You know it's never been easy being a New Democrat and nobody ever gave us the easy street."

This week a group of former provincial NDP candidates in New Brunswick apparently defected to the Green Party. The actual number of defectors was unclear throughout the week as accusations and counter-accusations flew between the two parties that could be vying for third place in the federal. Chris Hall tries to make sense of it all with Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

Jean Charest praises appointment of Canada's new ambassador to China

Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest says appointing Dominic Barton is a move the Chinese will respect. (Graham Hughes/CANADIAN PRESS)

Dominic Barton, Canada's newly-appointed ambassador to China, is "well placed" to represent the country at a time when relations with China are at a low point, former Quebec premier Jean Charest told The House.

"This sends a very important signal to the Chinese that we take the relationship very seriously, that we are reconnecting," said Charest, a member of the Asia Pacific Foundation.

Barton has been an economic adviser to the government. When he was a managing partner with the international consulting firm McKinsey's, he spent five years overseeing the firm's China operations.

Given Barton's global profile with governments and the private sector, Charest said he was impressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to convince Barton to take the job.

"It's quite a coup," he said.

Barton's appointment comes at a crucial moment in Canada-China relations following the detention of Huawai executive Meng Wangzhou in Canada and the arrests in China of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

"He'll be viewed as a high profile, credible interlocutor on the Canadian side and that's one of the conditions we need to fulfil to be able to move this file forward," Charest said.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest gives us his take on Canada's new ambassador to China, Dominic Barton.