Francois Legault says crucifix isn't religious symbol, considering grandfather clause for ban on wearing symbols
Quebec's next premier spent hours sitting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they flew to Armenia for the Francophonie summit, and on that trip they discussed multiple issues that may put their respective governments at odds.
The major sticking point will be the Coalition Avenir Quebec's proposal to ban the wearing of religious symbols by people in positions of authority.
"I know Mr. Trudeau disagrees with our proposal, but I think it's reasonable to say that we ban the wearing of religious signs but only by people in an authority position," said Francois Legault.
He said that the move is about imposing a secular state, although many critics have said it violates the Constitutional right for freedom of religion.
"I think it's fair, and at the same time we make sure we don't have problems like Mrs. [Marine] Le Pen or Mr. Trump, having people that are racist who would like to see religious signs banned even in a public area," said Legault.
Marine Le Pen is the leader of Rassemblement National, a far-right, anti-immigrant group in France, who praised Legault's election.
Crucifix: "I don't see this as a religious sign"
"We know the vast majority of Quebecers agree to ban religious signs. We have three parties out of four that agree with this ban," said Legault.
Many critics believe any law that banned wearing of religious symbols would violate the Canadian constitution, and point to the challenges faced by Bill 62.
That law, which banned face coverings by those using government-funded services, faced opposition from politicians like Legault who felt it did not go far enough.
Sections of Bill 62 were struck down by Quebec Superior Court in June, days before it was due to come into effect, because they violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Regardless, Legaut said he believed his government's proposals would pass legal muster, but if not, he would invoke the notwithstanding clause.
"This clause is to protect our collective rights, and I think if we compare to what's happening in many countries it's reasonable to say that for neutrality reasons, a policeman or policewoman doesn't show a religious sign, in case the man or the woman in front of him or her is from another religion," said Legault.
"We're not asking to ban the religious signs for all public employees, in fact the vast majority would be able to keep on wearing [them]."
Legault did point out that nothing is yet set in stone, and it's possible there would be different rules for those already working in authority positions.
"I'm open to this kind of discussion of grandfather rights," said Legault "but we have two categories of employees if we do so."
Legault said that the crucifix which sits above the Speaker's throne in the National Assembly -- a gift from the Catholic Church in 1936 -- would stay.
"I don't see this as a religious sign. I see this as being part of our history and part of our values," said Legault.
"We have a cross on our flag. I think that we have to understand that our past, we had Protestants, Catholics, they built the values we have in Quebec. It's part of our history. I think we have to recognize that and not mix that with religious signs," said Legault.
He added that dealing with this issue is not his priority -- he'd rather deal with the economy and healthcare first -- but said that Quebcers have been debating reasonable accommodations for more than a decade, and should put the issue to rest.
Legault has promised to reduce the number of immigrants coming to Quebec and on Thursday he said that he and Trudeau talked about how that could happen.
"We discussed about immigration, about the new model that I want to put in place, the model where we think we can do that without any new agreement with Ottawa," said Legault.
Under an agreement with the federal government Quebec has determined its own immigration requirements and selects its own immigrants -- although any immigrant to Canada is, of course, free to travel and move to any province once accepted, either by the federal government or by Quebec.
Legault wants to reduce the number of immigrants Quebec accepts each year, from 53,000 to 40,000, and said he wants to ensure more of those immigrants stay in Quebec, and do better at integrating into society.
"Before giving the Quebec selection certificate we will request [they] succeed at a French test and a value test," said Legault.
He said that people who failed these tests would then have their citizenship applications denied by Quebec.