Louise Mailloux, a staunch supporter of the PQ's proposed secular charter, has written that the price of certain kosher food products is purposely inflated to financially profit the Jewish community.
The author and philosophy professor wrote on her personal blog in March 2012 that some of the money from the sale of kosher and halal foods funds religion-fuelled activities abroad.
"Where does the money go that is given to imams and rabbis in exchange for their divine certification?" she wrote. "For the Jews, to finance Israel's colonization in Palestinian territories? And for Muslims, to fund the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamists who want to impose Islam worldwide?"
In a 2011 letter in a pro-independence newspaper, Mailloux accused religions of "laundering their propaganda in public daycare centres at taxpayers' expense.
"That's called fraud."
Later on, she wrote: "Little Catholics, Jews and Muslims who still wear diapers, that exists in our daycares. Let's baptize them all! Circumcise them all! So that God will recognize them! That's called rape."
Marois defended her candidate twice on Friday and emphasized that her party does not harbour anti-Jewish views.
"The Parti Quebecois is not an anti-Semitic party, I think you know that," Marois said. "I have very good relations with the leaders of this community and the leaders of all the different communities in Quebec."
The Quebec branch of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs had called on the PQ to publicly reject Mailloux's beliefs. They said her musings on the so-called kosher tax are a myth that has long been debunked.
"The absurd and profoundly defamatory statements of Louise Mailloux toward Quebec Jews is not befitting a major political party like the Parti Quebecois," said Luciano Del Negro, the organization's vice-president.
"Her candidacy sets a bad precedent that could contribute to the erosion of the political discourse in Quebec."
Food and religion have emerged as lightning rods in the province as part of the acrimonious debate on religious accommodation.
The Jewish group says food distributors and a grocery store chain debunked the idea at hearings on religious accommodation in 2007 that kosher food was sold at a premium.
Later on Friday, Marois repeated her support for Mailloux, declined to comment on her controversial past statements and stressed what mattered to the party was that her candidate backs the PQ's proposed secular charter.
That PQ legislation would forbid public employees from wearing visible religious symbols including hijabs, turbans, kippas and larger-than-average crucifixes.
"I won't comment on remarks that are positions previously taken by this candidate," Marois said.
"Madame Mailloux adheres to the Parti Quebecois program and adheres to our attitudes and those are very respectful of people's right to choose their convictions and how they practise their religion."
Earlier on Friday, Marois had said she respects Mailloux's long-held views on these issues.
"She has a point of view, but our party has its own orientation and that's what we're presenting to the population of Quebec," Marois said.
Mailloux is tasked with retaking Gouin, a hotly contested Montreal riding the PQ lost in 2012 after holding it since 1976.
Quebec solidaire's co-leader, Francoise David, won the riding 18 months ago by more than 4,500 votes and is Mailloux's opponent this time around.
For her part, Mailloux told La Presse in an interview this week she "absolutely" stands by her views. She declined to elaborate.
"Presently, I am with the Parti Quebecois to defend the secularism project," she told the newspaper. "That's what I'm interested in."
Attempts to reach Mailloux on Friday were unsuccessful.
The Coalition for Quebec's Future said the Mailloux affair smacks of an attempt to turn attention back to the charter, which has been largely ignored in the campaign so far in favour of referendums and sovereignty.
"If it wasn't so sad, we might be able to laugh and find it funny, but it's sad," said Coalition Leader Francois Legault. "What it shows is that Madame Marois is trying to do everything she can to talk about the charter.
"The least Marois can do is call Mailloux to order and ask her to apologize."
Mailloux is the second candidate to come under fire issues relating to minorities. On Thursday, PQ hopeful Jean Carriere withdraw his candidacy after an anti-Islamic post on his Facebook page started making the rounds.
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