03/17/2014 08:50 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Pauline Marois: Secularism Rules Could Attract Private Sector Too

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to questions during a news conference Wednesday July 10, 2013. The Quebec government has announced a $60-million fund to help victims in Lac-Megantic, and will take other actions that range from the symbolic to the concrete in the wake of a train disaster. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Clement Allard)

LONGUEUIL, Que. - Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois says that as long as the equality of the sexes is respected, there's nothing to stop private companies from implementing policies that mirror Quebec's controversial proposal to enforce public-sector secularism.

The secularism charter, which was stalled when the provincial election was called nearly two weeks ago, would have banned public sector workers from wearing such religious garb as hijabs, kippas, turbans or ostentatious crucifixes.

It was to have been the centrepiece of the PQ's campaign for the April 7 election until it was shoved onto the back burner by persistent questions about Marois' sovereignty agenda.

While popular with many Quebecers, the charter has also been fiercely opposed and prompted large street demonstrations against it.

Marois even got an angry earful about the charter from one young woman who she met while campaigning in a shopping mall in recent days. Video of the encounter went viral on YouTube.

Marois says talking about the implementation of charter-inspired rules in private companies is purely hypothetical because the charter itself hasn't been passed into law.

However, she acknowledged Monday the private sector could embrace it in the future.

Although the provincial charter would only apply to government-run institutions, the private sector would not be entirely spared in the absence of its own regulations.

Some companies under contract to the province, such as in the information technology sector, would have to abide by the charter's dress code.

Marois said Monday that provided companies meet the benchmarks that ensure the equality of men and women, companies "will be free to implement the policies that suit them."

"There will be no obligations for anyone except to ensure that the values of equality between men and women that are throughout our society."

Meanwhile, Francois Gendron, who served as deputy premier in Marois' minority government, said the government can't help the private sector implement the proposed charter in whole or in part if it is adopted.

He said the government can't interfere in the way businesses are governed.

"It does not concern us if they want to (apply the charter)," he said impatiently at a news conference. "It does not concern us, you understand that?....The private sector does not concern us. It is a charter for the public sector and the parapublic sector."

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