Leaders drilled on Quebec secularism bill on campaign launch day
OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was repeatedly asked about his stance on Quebec’s controversial secularism legislation on Wednesday, as he put forth his bid to serve a second term as Canada’s prime minister.
Trudeau fielded questions about why his party has been hesitant to intervene on Bill 21, which the Quebec government has said will ensure religious neutrality across the province.
“I’m totally against Bill 21, I think in a free society we shouldn’t legitimize or allow discrimination against anyone. I’m happy Quebecers themselves are going against this law,” he said at a press conference outside Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
However, he said it would be “counterproductive” for a federal government to insert itself into a provincial dispute.
“We will continue to monitor closely and evaluate our position,” he added.
Trudeau has faced criticism for not taking a firm enough stance on the issue. Bill 21 bans public figures from donning religious symbols and clothing.
Some have speculated that the Liberal leader is staying more tight-lipped as the party seeks to pick up seats in Quebec.
Speaking to reporters in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was also pressed on the bill.
“We do not have the intention of intervening in this case. We have made it clear that this is not something that we would do at the federal level, and that has been our position from the beginning,” he said.
There are 40 days until election night on Oct. 21, and Quebec remains a key battleground, as it was in 2015. Recent polls show Liberals holding strong support in the region, while the Conservatives lag behind and the NDP trail even further.
In a campaign advertisement released last week, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh addressed the discrimination he would face as a turbaned Sikh in Quebec. Under the legislation, he would have to remove his turban to work as a police officer or school teacher.
“I think about all the people I’ve met in Montreal – the young women who I met who love science and teaching but can’t because of the bill. It’s a divisive law,” said Singh in his campaign launch speech in London, Ont.
“We say don’t discriminate someone by the way they look, there’s a law that says we’re allowed to. I’m hoping my presence in Quebec as someone who wears a turban is a way to show people that I believe in fighting for your identity.”
Green Leader Elizabeth May was not asked about the bill as she kicked off her campaign in B.C.
When asked about the bill on CTV’s Power Play, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier said he, like Scheer, would not intervene in the matter.
“The Quebec government will have to be judged from Quebecers at the next election, so I won’t interfere in that, it’s in the constitution,” he said. “It is not something that I can speak about because I’m respecting the constitution and I respect the decision from the Quebec government. They will have to live with it.”
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins