Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Key PQ ally on secular charter makes waves as election enters home stretch

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, right, arrives with women's rights activist Janette Bertrand during a Quebec provincial election campaign stop in Laval, Que., on March 30, 2014.

GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A prominent supporter of the Parti Québécois's values charter made waves in the provincial election campaign on Sunday, using the example of an apartment swimming pool to warn of the dangers of religious accommodation.

Janette Bertrand, the head of a pro-charter group known as the Janettes, argued the accommodation of religious minorities in everyday life threatens to erode the equality between men and women.

She tried to illustrate her point with a brief story.

Story continues below advertisement

Imagine, she said, two men come to a swimming pool in a Montreal apartment, and the sight of women in the water upsets them.

"Well, suppose they leave, and go see the owner," said Bertrand, an 89-year-old former actress and journalist, emphasizing that the owner would be happy to have such "rich" McGill University students in the building.

"Then they ask, 'Well, can we have a day,' and they will pay … And then in a few months, it's them who have all the pool time."

"That's what will happen if there is no charter."

Bertrand, who led a protest march in favour of the charter last fall, made the comments alongside PQ Leader Pauline Marois at what was referred to as a "secular brunch."

In recent days, the PQ has tried to turn attention toward identity issues such as language and the values charter as the April 7 election enters the home stretch.

The party's charter of values would ban public sector employees – including teachers and daycare workers – from displaying or wearing religious symbols such as the hijab.

Story continues below advertisement

It would also include a framework to deal with accommodation requests.

Marois didn't distance herself from Bertrand's swimming-pool story, and instead accused Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard of not having a plan to deal with such issues.

"He doesn't have one. He will decide it case by case," she told reporters.

Marois said Couillard's ad hoc approach is exactly what previous studies of the issue, such as Quebec's 2008 Bouchard-Taylor report, recommended the province avoid.

The Liberal Leader was grilled on a similar issue during last Thursday's debate.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault peppered him with questions about whether a Quebec police officer should be allowed to wear a hijab.

Story continues below advertisement

Couillard didn't take a clear position and said he wouldn't speculate since the specific situation hasn't come up in Quebec.

Legault is also in favour of a secular charter, though it doesn't go as far. He said Bertrand's comments represent a fear many Quebeckers have but she chose the wrong words to express it.

For his part, Couillard again Sunday accused Marois of practising the politics of division with her focus on the charter.

He said the Liberals are committed to "building" the province and focusing on "inclusion," not "exclusion."

"It's for all of Quebec that we will govern," he said.

From the beginning, protection of the French language and the secular charter were expected to be key to the PQ's campaign, but they originally took a back seat to talk of whether there would be another sovereignty referendum – an idea disliked by many Quebeckers.

The proposed charter has been highly controversial but polls suggests it's favoured by a majority of francophones, a crucial voting group in the tight election.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.