OTTAWA — Bloc Québécois Leader Martine Ouellet says NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh is promoting Sikhism, and she believes his candidacy is testament to the "rise of the religious left."
Ouellet, who doesn't have a seat in the House of Commons and is still a sitting member of the province's National Assembly, told reporters Monday in Ottawa that Quebecers chose to separate religion and the state in the 1960s, and "we don't want to go back on that decision."
"[Singh] says he supports the separation of church and state, but he presents the complete opposite," Ouellet said, in French. "He says he has progressive values, but what he is showcasing are religious values ...
"What we are learning is that after having seen, I'd say, the religious right, there seems to be a rise of the religious left."
Singh is a Sikh who wears a turban and carries a kirpan, a ceremonial knife.
He says he has progressive values, but what he is showcasing are religious values ...Martin Ouellet
"Wearing religious symbols is showcasing one's religion, and that is promoting one's religion and promoting religious values, no matter what the religion is," the Bloc leader added. "When you are promoting religious values, it is always the promotion of one religion, and that is always to the detriment of others."
No religion should be highlighted more than any other, she said.
Ouellet also took aim at the several NDP leadership candidates who have voiced opposition to the province's proposed legislation, Bill 62.
Bill 62, which was introduced by the provincial Liberals, would bar women who wear a niqab or burqa from providing or accessing government services. It's unclear, for example, if a veiled woman would be allowed to board a public bus.
Ouellet said Singh — and the others, Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton — are democrats in name only, because they aren't willing to respect the democratic will of the National Assembly.
"To not respect Quebec's democracy is serious. It is very serious," she said.
Over the weekend, Singh defended his position of calling out provincial laws that he disagrees with. In August, he told HuffPost Canada, that he might support provincial groups that want to fight Bill 62 in court.
"What we should do, and what we can do, as the federal government is weigh in on issues," he told reporters gathered in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday for the NDP leadership showcase. "If any province was to privatize public resources, public infrastructure, I will criticize that and say that is not the right thing.... If a province brings forward issues, bills, laws that I don't agree with, based on my social democratic values, my human rights values, I will raise my concerns, and that is something I believe in."
The 38-year-old leadership contender said he is "confident" that he can convince Quebecers that he shares their progressive social democratic values and that he'll fight for policies that are important to them.
If a province brings forward issues, bills, laws that I don't agree with, based on my social democratic values, my human rights values, I will raise my concerns, and that is something I believe in.Jagmeet Singh
"[Once] people will know that, ... we will be able to not only maintain our seats, but grow our seats in Quebec," he said.
The NDP holds 16 seats in the province, down from 59 in the 2015 election. The Bloc has 10.
On Saturday, NDP MP Pierre Nantel told Radio-Canada that he believes there is an "incompatibility" between Singh's religious symbols and Quebecers' ability to see him as a potential new NDP leader.
"We don't want to see any ostentatious religious symbols. We think that is not compatible with power, with authority," he said.
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But some Quebec NDP MPs attempted to play down the potential impact of Singh's religious symbols in Quebec.
"I'm not worried," MP Karine Trudel said. "The only concerns I have is when we have a new leader ... no matter who it will be, [that] it will be a new adaptation and new teamwork that we will have to build. It's not about the person."
MP Matthew Dubé said the caucus is ready to move forward and renew its political offer to Quebecers.
"I think Mr. Singh, as the other three [candidates], is more than able to do that. I don't think we should be playing that type of divisive politics," he said.
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