Quebec premier-designate François Legault is standing firm on his plans for religious neutrality after his first official meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec said Thursday he discussed several issues with Trudeau while on a flight to Armenia for the Francophonie summit. When the conversation turned to secularism, Legault admitted he is well aware they don’t share the same mindset.
“I know Mr. Trudeau disagrees with our proposal,” Legault said. “I think it’s reasonable to ban the religious signs, but only for people in a position of authority.”
The proposed ban would bar certain state employees — including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.
The controversial plan has sparked protests in Montreal and accusations from teachers that the CAQ is trying to create a problem where none exists. Trudeau has also voiced his unease, saying he is “not of the opinion that the state should be able to tell a woman what she can wear, nor what she cannot wear.”
Legault, for his part, said the proposed ban has widespread support from across the province.
“We know that the vast majority of Quebecers, they agree to ban religious signs,” he said. “We have three parties out of four at the National Assembly that agree with this ban.”
“I think it’s about time we listened to Quebecers.”
Earlier this week, the CAQ also took a softer tone to say it is prepared to work with opposition parties and it is open to granting grandfather rights for those already working in sectors who may be affected.
While Legault said he maintains his position on secularism, he is willing to discuss exceptions.
“I’m open,” Legault said.
WATCH: Newly-elected CAQ MNA Geneviève Guilbault stands firm on plan to ban religious symbols
After meeting with Trudeau, Legault once again vowed to use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause, if necessary, to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and enforce the ban.
“This clause is to make sure we protect our collective rights,” he said.
“And I think if we compare to what’s happening in many countries, it’s reasonable for neutrality reasons — we want to make sure that a policeman or a policewoman doesn’t show a religious sign in case the man or woman in front of him is from another religion.”
Crucifix will stay in National Assembly
When asked if he would reconsider removing the crucifix in the legislature, Legault also upheld his newly-elected government’s stance on the issue.
Simon Jolin-Barrette, a spokesman for the CAQ transition team, said earlier this week there is no contradiction between the party’s plan to impose strict religious-neutrality rules on certain public servants and its desire to maintain the crucifix.
Legault said the crucifix, which has hung behind the Speaker’s chair since the 1930s, is not a religious symbol but a part of the province’s heritage.
“We have a cross on our flag,” he said. “I think that we have to understand our past. In our past we had Protestants, Catholics, they built the values we have in Quebec.”
“It’s part of our history.”
Legault’s cabinet is to be sworn in Oct. 18.
— with files from The Canadian Press