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Values charter not part of sovereignty push, Marois says

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois gestures during her closing speech at the Parti Québécois convention in Montreal on Nov. 10, 2013.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS

Premier Pauline Marois denies the proposed values charter is part of an attempt to drum up support for Quebec independence – and instead is saying the legislation is necessary to ensure "harmony" in the province.

Marois put sovereignty front and centre in a fiery speech to close a weekend conference of her Parti Québécois in Montreal.

She contended the province would benefit in every respect if it was independent, and that Canada and Quebec would be "better off as friendly countries rather than two rival governments."

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But Marois rejected any suggestion that the charter could be used as a political tool to promote the sovereigntist cause.

After the speech, Marois told reporters the PQ has been considering introducing a charter for a long time, and that the new rules will help bring stability to Quebec.

"The charter wasn't tabled to give us any advantage when it comes to sovereignty. I want to be very clear on this," the Premier said.

"We decided to present this charter because we think it's important to say what will be the rules for behaviour in our society."

Marois did allow, however, that an independent Quebec would have an easier time putting the charter into law because "we wouldn't have to deal with challenges from Ottawa."

The federal government has said it will examine the charter, if it's passed, to see if it violates Canadian law.

The charter, tabled last Thursday, includes a plan to ban public sector employees from wearing overtly religious clothing.

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The PQ took the plan even further at its weekend convention, passing a motion that would ban all party candidates and legislature members from wearing religious symbols in Quebec's national assembly.

Marois couldn't think of a PQ candidate or legislature member who would be affected by the motion.

Only a few delegates voted against it.

The PQ, which holds a minority in the legislature, is threatening to trigger an election over the charter by making votes on the legislation a matter of confidence.

Marois hasn't decided about that yet.

"We'll evaluate that when we get to that point, after the consultations and debates, and certain changes to the bill that could eventually be made," she said.

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The opposition Liberals are staunchly opposed to the charter, while the Coalition party earlier put forward a milder plan.

With files from Melanie Marquis

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