Pauline Marois now says a PQ government would use the notwithstanding clause to pass the Charter of Values.
For months the PQ leader and the minister in charge of the Charter, Bernard Drainville, said it would not be necessary to use the notwithstanding clause to bring the Charter of Values into effect.
This despite a litany of legal opinions, including from the Quebec Bar Association, saying the Charter of Values would violate Quebec's Charter of Rights and the federal Charter of Rights.
However on Monday morning Premier Marois said if re-elected, her government would be willing to use the clause that allows a temporary violation of constitutional rights.
"We had some information outside of Quebec about citizens who want to contest this Charter if we adopt [it]," said Marois.
"We have [a lot of ] advice about the constitutionality of this Charter. Some said yes, no problem. Some said no, so I will not take any risk with this."
The about-face comes after an article in La Presse where, according to an anonymous PQ cabinet minister, the multi-year plan to transform the PQ into the champion of francophone identity is explained.
Columnist Vincent Marissal wrote that several notable PQ ministers, party supporters, and writers with the Quebecor-owned Journal de Montreal came up with a plan in 2007 to transform the party. Those people include Jean-Francois Lisée, Mathieu Bock-Coté, and Pierre Karl Peladeau, the president and CEO of Quebecor.
One key part of that plan was to create a Charter of Values that would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, thus creating a dispute between the federal government and Quebecers.
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard said this is proof the Parti Quebecois has embarked on a Machiavellian plan to brainwash Quebecers into supporting the Charter of Values, and inevitably leading to support for a referendum on separation.
In a Monday morning interview at a Quebec City radio station, Couillard said the PQ was manipulating facts and bringing out beloved public figures to create imaginary horror stories about the dangers of immigrants and foreigners.
He said the PQ "had no scruples" in bringing out Janette Bertrand, 89, to make up stories about imaginary Muslims in order to convince Quebecers to support the separatist party.
"It has nothing to do with identity. By the way this divisiveness was identified and was deliberately used, including exclusion, including job discrimination, to push Quebecers towards a big fight with Ottawa," said Couillard.
"It's literally quoted, not written, quoted in the paper 'we're going to put it through the federal tribunals, it's going to fail, we'll have a big fight and then we'll go for a referendum."
On Sunday Bertrand, an actress and talk show host who became a household name among French Quebecers during the 60s, 70s and 80s, told a group of PQ supporters the Charter of Values was a necessity.
Bertrand gave an example of how she was taking part in an exercise class in a pool, and became disturbed when two men walked onto the pool deck and left.
She then created a story of how Quebecers should elect the PQ and pass the Charter so that rich Muslims could not convince pool owners to have men-only or women-only periods.
"Let us then imagine those men go see the owner, who is happy to have rich McGill students at this pool and agrees to have a day (where women aren't allowed), said Bertrand.
"And then in a few months, only they can use the pool. Well that's it, the chipping away at rights that's we're scared of and that's what will happen if there is no charter."
On Monday Bertrand clarified that her story was just that -- a story she made up to illustrate her fear of a slippery slope altering Quebec society.
Last year Bertrand said she would refuse to be treated by a doctor or nurse who wore a hijab.
The Charter of Values, as proposed by the Parti Quebecois, would not apply to any such hypothetical situation.
Meanwhile PQ cabinet minister Jean-Francois Lisée said Bertrand may not be the best spokesperson for the Charter, but told CJAD she deserved some leeway. "The woman is 89 so I'm going to cut her some slack."
One expert onlooker told CTV Montreal that the new approach makes the PQ look less than confident.
"I would interpret this as the Marois strategists panicking a little bit and making sure that the base that they have constructed over the course of the last six months over the charter does not erode," said McGill University law professor Daniel Weinstock.
Legault won't talk charter
CAQ Francois Legault noted he brought up the notion last August of using the notwithstanding clause. But he told a reporter on Monday he wasn't going to discuss the matter further. He is in favour of a modified version of the charter but said there are more important issues to discuss.
"I won't play Madame Marois's game by talking about the charter," Legault said in Quebec City. "I want to talk about the economy and I'm going to talk about the economy until April 7."