The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government’s proposed secularism bill and religious symbols ban passed second reading on Tuesday afternoon, following hours of debate on Monday that went well into the evening.
The minister responsible for Bill 21, Simon Jolin-Barrette, didn’t stay until the end. Jolin-Barrette is also the minister responsible for Bill 9 on immigration. These are the two principal pieces of legislation the CAQ government wants to pass this month. However, the Liberal Opposition says the minister’s juggling act is “an issue for democracy.”
After more than 45 hours of debate, MNAs studying the bill are only on Article 9 (out of 21 articles), and there are less than two weeks left in the session. However, on Tuesday, the committee sat for only two hours. Jolin-Barrette was needed at the committee studying Bill 21. He’s also the government house leader.
“Basically, we have a third of a minister,” said Liberal MNA Dominique Anglade.
Opposition parties and journalists also questioned the minister about why the committee was meeting where it was — the National Assembly recently opened a new $60-million addition with two brand-new, modern committee rooms, but the Bill 9 debate took place in the only room where proceedings are not televised.
“It’s right beside my office,” he told reporters.
However, the minister denied he’s being stretched too thin.
“You cannot criticize the fact that I’m working multiple hours on two important bills of the government,” he said.
Anglade said the minister can’t answer important questions, such as how, exactly, a values test for immigrants would work.
“At which point in time are they going to be passing that test? Have you thought about this? Have you thought about the different options?” Anglade said, giving examples of the type of questions she’s been asking in committee.
Jolin-Barrette said he wasn’t able to respond specifically because it depends, in part, on the federal government.
“I have to make some negotiations with the federal government that will permit us to do that,” he said.
Liberal house leader Sébastien Proulx said it’s not the Opposition trying to hold up work on the bills but, rather, it’s the minister’s ambiguous answers.
“If you compromise, accept amendments and explain things clearly… things would advance,” he said.
However, the premier accused the Liberals of “playing games.”
“I don’t think, if we spend the next 12 months continuing debating about religious signs and the way we select immigrants, that we’ll find a conclusion where the Liberal Party agrees,” said Premier François Legault.