EDMONTON — Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the outcome of a referendum in which voters narrowly rejected a proposed Muslim-owned cemetery was disappointing.
Voters shot down a zoning change by a 19-16 margin Sunday that would have allowed for the project to go ahead in Saint-Apollinaire, about 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City.
The cemetery issue was sent to a referendum after enough people came forward to oppose the project.
Speaking to reporters in Edmonton on Tuesday, Couillard dismissed criticism the provincial government did not get involved in the referendum campaign.
That said, Couillard says the province will now turn its attention to finding a solution.
He says the Muslims in the Quebec City area need a designated space to bury their dead.
"I find it disappointing, I'm saddened by the result," Couillard said as he attended a premiers' meeting. "I don't think what happened there is favourable for Quebec's image."
Opponents of the plan said Muslims should be buried in Islamic sections of existing cemeteries in the region and not have burial grounds owned and operated by mosques.
Mayor doesn't want to revisit issue
Prominent Muslims in Quebec reacted strongly to the referendum results, asking how so few citizens could decide a project aimed at thousands of people in Quebec City.
Some have called on politicians to use a new law, which permits municipalities to forgo referendums on development projects, to bring the proposal once again before citizens.
The mayor of Saint-Apollinaire, who was in favour of the cemetery, says he does not want to revisit the issue at the moment.
The land for the proposed cemetery is located in a sparsely populated area of the town, so only a handful of people had the right to vote.
"I think I speak for a large majority of Quebecers who wished the results had been different."
Couillard warned Tuesday against coming to the conclusion that those who rejected the cemetery are representative of the entire province.
"I think it would be a serious mistake to extrapolate from a small number of people, something that would apply to all of Quebec society," he said.
Being able bury one's dead in a place that's safe and secure is a fundamental right, Couillard added.
"I understand that and I think Quebecers understand that too," he said. "When I say I'm disappointed by the results, I think I speak for a large majority of Quebecers who wished the results had been different."