Former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau says the proposed Charter of Quebec Values is too extreme, divisive, and mostly unnecessary.
In his first column in the Journal de Montreal, Parizeau writes that Quebec already is a secular society, and points to a host of changes in the province's culture during his lifetime, including the steady relinquishing of control by the Catholic Church and those associated with it.
"Most of the classical colleges were purchased and turned into CEGEPs while universities gave up their pontifical charter... The prayer in the National Assembly was replaced with a 'moment of reflection,'" wrote Parizeau.
In his column Parizeau goes on to say that most visible signs of religion, including habits worn by nuns, have gradually faded from view in Quebec, but that some nuns still wear head coverings, as do many Jews.
He then asks, rhetorically, why the PQ government wants to pass an unprecedented law banning religious symbols and comes up with only one reason: Islamism.
"The only contact most Quebecers have with the Islamic world are violent images repeated ad infinitim: wars, riots, bombs, the World Trade Center attack and the Boston Marathon; it's also the image of female subordination to the male and the violence inflicted if women refuse to submit. The reflex is clear: We don't want that here!" writes Parizeau.
However he points out that in Montreal, where French Quebecers mingle with Muslims, these reflexive views are tempered with day-to-day reality, while in rural Quebec where meeting non-white-francophones is rare, the first notion is to cheer the government's move.
However Parizeau takes heart that, upon reflection and if polls can be trusted, more than three-quarters of Quebecers do not want to see anyone lose their job because of what they wear.
He also points out that many people in the secular movement in Quebec are embarrassed by the litany of exemptions and double-standards proposed by the PQ government that make the Charter of Quebec Values anything but fair and equal. Not to mention the rise of hateful speech and actions targeted toward people who, until the PQ proposed the Charter, were already or were well on their way to becoming integrated in Quebec.
Parizeau concludes his column with the hope that the Charter be limited to a formal declaration of the separation of Church and State, and otherwise follow the proposals outlined by the Bouchard-Taylor report, namely banning the wearing of religious symbols by police officers, judges, and prosecutors.
"As for the crucifix in the National Assembly? I hope that, next summer, the Speaker of the Assembly, after discreetly consulting with all political parties, moves it to another place in the building, such as the Hall of Speakers, where it can hang for many years. By summer's end the affair will have stopped making waves."
Muted reaction from PQ
Rumours that Parizeau was opposed to the Charter have been circulating for weeks, so members of the Parti Quebecois were very well prepared Thursday morning with rebuttals.
Premier Pauline Marois said Parizeau was "a citizen like any other, and like any citizen has the right to offer his opinion."
Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the Charter, said that Parizeau's comments will be taken in account, along with those of 25,000 other Quebecers who have submitted critiques.
"I think it's a contribution that's constructive, that's informed, and we will take it into account like we do for all citizens," said Drainville.
Minister for Montreal Jean-Francois Lisée downplayed having the most-loved former leader of the PQ speaking against the Charter.
"He gave his point of view. What is interesting is that it reflects that in this great debate arguments trascend political families," Lisée said.
The Minister then implied that the PQ has already decided to make changes to the Charter, and unlike what Parizeau suggests, is in favour of being more strict. Questioned by CTV News Quebec City Bureau Chief Max Harrold, Lisée said "improvements" were in the cards but was not specific.
In recent weeks Lisée has said that the opt-out clause would likely be eliminated, if not greatly reduced.
Opposition MNAs support Parizeau
Meanwhile members of the opposition parties say the PQ reaction is proof the government has no real interest in creating a consensus among Quebecers.
"[Parizeau] has put the finger on the idea that there is consensus, and we should go ahead with those items," said Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier.
However the Liberals do not expect the PQ to act rationally when it comes to the Charter.
"I'll make a prediction. The PQ will not take any action because they don't want a consensus. They don't want an agreement. They want to get on their horse and lead this into an election battle," Fournier said.
Speaking in a televised interview CAQ MNA Nathalie Roy approved Parizeau's article.
"We are ecstatic. We are happy that a man with immense political experience... is being reasonable," said Roy.
"What the PQ is doing is not uniting people, and it will be almost impossible to enforce."
Italians, Greeks and Jews
Parizeau also raised eyebrows Thursday morning when he attempted to explain his famous post-referendum speech in November 1995, in which he famously blamed "money and the ethnic vote" for narrow victory for the Yes side, a quote that effectively ended his political career.
"I knew very well who I was targeting when I said that: the common front of Italian, Greek and Jewish congresses. There was extraordinary political activity in the No camp, with a formidable success. You know, in Cote St. Luc, there were 12 polls and no Yes votes."