QUEBEC CITY – The Quebec Liberal Party will look into banning civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious gear. Liberal leader Philippe Couillard asked that a party committee study the issue. The announcement was made as the Liberals welcomed Fatima Houda-Pepin back into the fold.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing her because she’s a colleague I really appreciate,” said Liberal MNA Kathleen Weil.
On Tuesday, the Liberal caucus met behind closed doors to seal Houda-Pepin’s fate. After about an hour they emerged, Houda-Pepin walking alongside party leader Philippe Couillard.
“We had some arguments and some discussion, but right now everything is behind us and we will work together,” said Houda-Pepin.
Several Liberal MNAs had trouble understanding what pushed their colleague Fatima Houda-Pepin to commit “an act of rupture” and send two separate letters to the press expressing her dissension. Houda-Pepin told media last week she disagrees with her party on the Charter of Quebec Values. She said she would use the notwithstanding clause to ban civil servants in positions of authority, such as judges, prosecutors, police officers and prison guards, from wearing religious signs, arguing certain pieces of clothing, such as the chador, are the ultimate symbols of religious fundamentalism.
The Liberals have always defended civil rights and freedoms, including freedom of religion.
Couillard said he’s now ready to take a serious look at Houda-Pepin’s proposal to ban religious signs for some civil servants, on one condition:
“It has to be done in total accordance with the charters of rights, both the Canadian and the Quebec Charter,” he said.
The change in position didn’t go unnoticed.
“Mr. Couillard only needs one MNA to change his position?” wondered CAQ leader François Legault.
“Mr. Couillard and the Liberal party, since the beginning, have been very weak on the issue of the charter,” said Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville. “They’ve been weak and weak and weak. Now they seem to be a little less weak but it’s still very weak.”
But as discussion about the charter evolves, there still appears to be little room for compromise.
“The debate is bringing even very reluctant political parties like the Liberals to move forward towards our position. I think we should give them more time to move even more forward,” said Jean-François Lisée, PQ minister responsible for Montreal.
The PQ maintained the ban should apply to all civil servants. Public consultations are set to begin January 14th 2014. In the meantime, the Liberals appear united once more…but for how long?