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Liberals vow their charter will be based on ‘consensus’

Quebec Premier designate Philippe Couillard speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebecers elected a Liberal majority government on April 7.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Parti Québécois' charter of values is dead, or at least its most divisive element.

Philippe Couillard has promised to introduce a Liberal version of the secular charter, but in his first news conference as premier-designate, he said it would not ban provincial civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job, something he had made clear during the election campaign.

That controversial proposal was at the heart of the Parti Québécois' plan, and many said it would violate guarantees of freedom of expression and religion in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially for Muslim women and other minorities.

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"We will legislate on the issue, with the elements that form a consensus and on which we could have already acted," Mr. Couillard said on Tuesday.

The Liberal charter would include measures to fight religious extremism, force Quebeckers to offer and receive government services with their faces uncovered, and propose a framework to settle demands for religious accommodation.

Mr. Couillard said he wants his proposal to be quickly adopted to put an end to the debate. The previous Liberal government was accused of ignoring issues surrounding the integration of religious minorities for years, leading to a toxic political climate.

"It is important for me to deal with this early in our government," Mr. Couillard said. "The issue has divided Quebeckers and caused suffering. … It's time to bring this matter to a conclusion and move forward."

As he promised during the election campaign, Mr. Couillard is also planning to publish the confidential legal analysis of the PQ's proposal that was done by provincial lawyers.

In Ottawa, the leader of the federal Liberal Party, who had opposed the PQ proposal, said the main concern is ensuring that the charters of rights and freedoms in Canada and Quebec are respected, adding that he knew all along the voters would reject the PQ secular charter.

"People need to have faith in Quebeckers," Justin Trudeau said. "It's unacceptable for someone to have to choose between his or her religion and a job."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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