TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. - Pauline Marois's vision for Quebec includes fewer hijabs and fewer symbols of the Crown.
She announced Tuesday that if her Parti Quebecois wins the Sept. 4 election, it will introduce a Charter of Secularism that would forbid public employees from wearing religious symbols on the job — like Muslim head scarves.
But the Charter of Secularism, it seems, would not be applied evenly.
The ban on religious symbols would not extend to employees who wear a crucifix necklace. Nor would it extend to the crucifix hanging in the legislature, which Marois says is part of Quebec's heritage. The cross first found its way onto the legislative chamber's wall in 1936 under the government of Maurice Duplessis.
The ban on religious symbols would extend, however, to some non-religious aspects of Quebec's history as selected by the PQ.
Artistic references to the monarchy would also disappear from the legislature under Marois' watch. She allowed that "some moldings" might remain.
Marois explained the logic behind the criteria.
"I have a lot fewer qualms regarding the monarchy and it doesn't bother me to see them disappear," she said.
As for the crucifix, Marois said keeping the symbol makes perfect sense — even if the state strives for secularism overall.
"Wanting to take a step toward ensuring the neutrality of the state doesn't mean we deny who we are," she said while campaigning in Trois-Rivieres, Que. "It simply means we are at a different moment in our history.
"And from this point, we believe that the neutrality of the state and the fundamental values of equality between men and women must guide us in living together in Quebec."
She says the legislation declaring Quebec secular would turn the page on the reasonable accommodation debate festering in Quebec since 2007.
That year, the now-defunct Action democratique du Quebec made spectacular, if short-lived, political gains as it played to fears that Quebec's identity was being threatened by multiculturalism.
At the time, some tabloid media carried frequent reports about affronts to Quebec's culture — such as the case of a sugar shack that served pea soup without pork in order to please a group of Muslim visitors.
In that election, under the resolutely cosmopolitan Andre Boisclair, the PQ shied away from such issues and it suffered its worst defeat in decades. The party has since sought to re-appropriate its mantle, under Marois, as staunch defender of Quebec culture.
Marois said Tuesday that, if elected, her government would be prepared to fight any attempt to stop it from carrying out its plan.
The PQ had earlier opposed Liberal legislation to address reasonable accommodations, saying it didn't address the issue sufficiently.
The announcement follows earlier PQ declarations that it plans to toughen Quebec's language laws to protect perceived threats to the survival of French in such places as Montreal.
Marois made her secularism announcement on land belonging to a Christian religious order. She was accompanied by one of her candidates, Algerian-born Djemila Benhabib, an author who has been deeply critical of Islamic fundamentalism and a vocal proponent of secularism.
Benhabib has differed from her party policy in one respect: she suggested that she would prefer that the crucifix also be removed from the legislature. She added later that she was endorsing her party's position.
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