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Conservative Party leader won’t intervene in Quebec secularism law, supports Bill 101 expansion

Click to play video 'O’Toole says he discussed national unity, COVID-19 response with Quebec premier' O’Toole says he discussed national unity, COVID-19 response with Quebec premier
Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole on Monday that he spoke with Quebec Premier François Legault about several topics, but national unity and the response to COVID-19 were top of mind. He also said he hopes to double or triple the size of the party's caucus in the province, saying he built a "great team" in the province during the leadership campaign and it might "surprise" people in the next election.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole says he will not intervene in Quebec’s contentious religious symbols ban for some public sector workers and that he supports the expansion of the province’s language charter.

After meeting with Premier François Legault on Monday in Montreal, O’Toole told reporters it was important to respect the independence of the province’s legislature.

When it comes to Quebec’s secularism law, O’Toole said he served in the military alongside practising Sikhs who wore turbans “and I understand it’s a difficult question.”

“But as a leader, we have to respect the Constitution and the partnerships we have in Canada,” he said.

READ MORE: Quebec teachers’ union suing government for info on coronavirus back-to-school plan

The legislation, known as Bill 21, prohibits some workers — such as teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious garb while working. It has been the source of criticism and has led to legal challenges, but Legault has long maintained it has widespread support within the province.

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Aside from secularism, O’Toole also said he supports an idea touted by Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language, to expand Bill 101 to federally regulated companies such as banks or Via Rail.

Large federal organizations should abide by Quebec law since it comes down to protecting the French language and culture, according to O’Toole.

“I think it’s a question of respect,” he said.

READ MORE: Quebec government ‘happy’ after Supreme Court declines to hear Bill 21 challenge, premier says

It was the first meeting between Legault and O’Toole after the latter won the Conservative Party leadership last month. The new leader said he was going to “work very hard” to earn the trust of Quebecers ahead of the next federal election.

“I want to double or triple that caucus,” he said.

With files from Global News’ Felicia Parrillo and the Canadian Press