Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Government Polls Public on 'Problem' of Religious Accommodation

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Government Polls Public on 'Problem' of Religious Accommodation

Article excerpt

Quebec polls public on minority rights


QUEBEC - The Parti Quebecois government, already involved in a political battle to toughen the province's language law, has placed another emotionally charged identity issue on the back burner.

The government has delayed its plan to set limits on religious accommodations until the fall and even begun referring to it in less contentious terms.

The PQ campaigned last year on a promise to introduce a Charter of Secularism, notably aimed at regulating Muslim headwear in public institutions. It is now referring to its plan as a "charter of Quebec values."

"The equality of men and women, that's going to be one of the values, equality, extremely important, which we will affirm in this charter of Quebec values," said Bernard Drainville, the cabinet minister responsible for crafting the policy.

The secularism plan was one of the main hot-button issues pressed in the last PQ campaign -- another one being language.

A language bill has already been watered down from what the PQ proposed in the election, and it will have to be diluted even further to have any hope of passing through the minority legislature.

Bill 14 has no support from the main opposition party, the Liberals, while a smaller opposition party, the Coalition, is demanding a rewrite in exchange for its possible support.

Drainville says the secularism delay will allow the government to continue consulting Quebecers.

"There are many people who have told me, 'This is a debate that is very important for our society'," Drainville said in Quebec City on Wednesday.

He said there would be "groups of people, concerned people" who will help create the position.

In the meantime, the government is seeking to rally public opinion.

It has commissioned a poll on public attitudes toward minority accommodations, leaked the poll to a newspaper, and posted it Wednesday on the government website.

The poll asks respondents how much, on a scale of one to 10, the issue of religious accommodation is an "important problem."

The average respondent ranked the "problem" at 6.5 out of 10.

The Leger Marketing Internet poll of 1,506 Quebecers -- including 500 non-francophones -- also says 78 per cent of respondents believe the religious accommodation issue remains important.

The March 12-17 survey has a margin of error of 2.53 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Opposition parties are skeptical of the government's intentions.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard expressed fear of the divisions the initiative might create.

"Do we want a society where we're going to be looking under people's shirts to see if they're wearing a crucifix or a Star of David?" Couillard asked.

"I don't think Quebecers want a society like that."

He questioned whether the minority PQ government wasn't engaging in an effort to prepare the ground for the next election campaign. …

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