MONTREAL - Another former premier and prominent separatist has come out swinging against the proposed Charter of Quebec Values.
Lucien Bouchard sat down with a La Presse columnist and outlined his views on the charter, saying he had previously not wanted to intervene, but that he found the divisive discourse troublesome.
Bouchard largely echoed the opinions put forth by another former premier in another newspaper Thursday.
In a letter, Jacques Parizeau called the charter extreme, divisive and unnecessary. In his interview, Bouchard said his predecessor had the right idea when it came to the proposal.
"What Mr. Parizeau wrote, it makes sense, it brings us back to real values of the tolerance and openness of Quebec society, but highlights the fundamental principle of secularism, developed around rules," he said.
Bouchard said religious symbols should be banned for public employees in positions of power, such as judges and police officers, and that those who provide and receive government services should not be able to cover their faces.
He also said the time is right to take down the cross in the National Assembly. Although the charter would ban "ostentatious" religious symbols, the PQ has argued the cross in the legislature is a reminder of Quebec's heritage and should stay put.
Bouchard's brother Gerard co-chaired the 2007 Bouchard-Taylor commission and co-wrote the ensuing report that examined reasonable accommodation in Quebec.
Bouchard said if the government can incorporate the report's recommendations, it would "hit a home run."
"It's possible, and I would even say probable, that the National Assembly would vote unanimously for that kind of compromise. It would be a triumph. Instead of dividing Quebecers, that would bring them together."
Compromise or election?
One political observer said that the two former leaders appear to be in sync with the will of the population, which is getting sick of the debate.
“They think it's very ugly and injurious and so I think ideally Quebecers would like a way to resolve it and misters Bouchard and Parizeau have offered something that is probably closer to what Quebecers can come to some agreement about,” said Jack Jedwab of the Association of Canadian Studies.
But some opposition members believe that the PQ government isn't searching for a resolution to the issue at all.
“We don't know if they want to move, if they really want to adopt that charter of secularism,” said Nathalie Roy, CAQ Critic for Culture and Communications. “We think they want to make the fun last so they can go into an election on that and that is not a responsible way to govern.”
The government will have to decide whether to opt for the compromise or go to the polls with the issue, according to another informed onlooker.
“Either they accept the compromises and work with the CAQ, or they need a wedge issue, so they don't compromise at all. They write a bill and then table it and call an election,” said political analyst Jean Lapierre.
Retired premiers seek harmony
The input from former premiers Parizeau and Bouchard recalled a time when neither were seen as doing much to contribute to political harmony in Quebec.
For many, Parizeau’s remarks, which urged togetherness and inclusion, brought back memories of his comments following the 1995 referendum in which he blamed “money and the ethnic vote” for the Yes side’s narrow victory.
Bouchard said that since the Parti Quebecois is a party that "has always been fundamentally tolerant, open and democratic," Parizeau's views on the charter don't surprise him.
Parizeau was a vocal critic of Bouchard's while he was premier, and Bouchard was careful to say he didn't want to do the same for current PQ premier Pauline Marois.
He said Marois and her government should see his intervention as helpful, not harmful.
"I'm offering my help," he said. "I don't want to be a mediator, I just wanted to help find a solution and play whatever role the premier chooses ... The government can't let this opportunity for Quebec pass by."