After outlining his priorities at a press conference in Quebec City on Tuesday, Premier-designate François Legault met with newly elected Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) MNAs in Boucherville on Wednesday.
After a public address in which Legault congratulated the 74 party members heading to the National Assembly, the CAQ gathered for a closed-door meeting.
Following the election post-mortem, MNAs Simon Jolin-Barrette and Geneviève Guilabult addressed the media.
WATCH: The Coalition Avenir Québec is standing firm on its plan to ban civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. As Global’s Tim Sargeant reports, incoming MNAs say the party has received a clear mandate from Quebecers.
Both towed the party line on issues relating to secularism, with Guilbault arguing the CAQ had received a clear mandate from the people of Quebec.
“We always said that we would propose a new law that includes the forbidding of wearing of religious signs for people in positions of authority employed by the state,” she said.
“As with any other electoral engagement, we will do what we promised to do in Quebec.”
On Tuesday, Legault said the new law would include a transition period to help those affected relocate.
When pressed by reporters on whether people would lose their jobs if they wanted to remain in the same position, Guilbault answered it would be that person’s choice.
“They will make the choice to not occupy the position if they desire to keep wearing a religious symbol,” she said, adding it was only a small proportion of the Quebec workforce that would be affected.
While secularism was a hot-button issue when the outgoing Liberals passed a law prohibiting public-sector workers from wearing a face-covering garment — a law that is currently facing legal challenges — the issue took a back seat to immigration, health and education during the election campaign.
Shaheen Ashraf, who sits on the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said she never heard the CAQ candidates or Legault talk about the issue during the campaign.
“If it was in the mandate it should have come up during his campaign — so many people would not have voted for him,” Ashraf said.
But secularism was back in the spotlight Tuesday when Legault said he would invoke the notwithstanding clause to ensure public officials in positions of authority, such as police officers and teachers, do not wear religious symbols.
WATCH: CAQ wins majority government in Quebec, will invoke notwithstanding clause
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed worry, saying the clause should only be used in exceptional circumstances and after lots of deep reflection about the consequences.
Jolin-Barrette explained the CAQ’s intention was not to invoke the notwithstanding clause straight out of the gate.
“Our objective is to table a bill that will respect the rights and freedoms of all,” he said. “If, by chance, there was some dispute, we could resort to the clause.”
Jolin-Barrette also reminded those gathered in Boucherville, the clause is a legal tool present in the Constitution since 1982, to be used by various governments.
“It has been used on multiple occasions by the Parti Québécois and the Quebec Liberal government on numerous files,” he said.
–With files from Global’s Tim Sargeant
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