The provincial government is suggesting that the leading contenders to become mayor of Montreal don't really understand people who live in Quebec's largest city.

Minister for Montreal Jean-Francois Lisée believes that his party's controversial Charter of Quebec Values is an election issue for Montrealers.

Since the four leading candidates, Richard Bergeron, Denis Coderre, Marcel Coté and Melanie Joly have all denounced the Charter, Lisée thinks the minority in the city who support the Charter will have difficulty choosing a candidate.

He also suggests that the provincial government will be allowed to dismiss whoever is elected Mayor as not having a valid mandate.

"When you get to the poll on November third, all those who are in favour of the Charter cannot really make a decision, and the person who will be mayor cannot say 'I was against the Charter and I beat the guy who was for it so I have a mandate,'" said Lisée.

Lisée said it would have been better for Montreal mayoral candidates to keep quiet on the matter and pretend it will not affect the city, just like Mayor Jean Drapeau did with regards to Bill 101 in the 1970s. Later in the day Christine St-Pierre said that Lisée was not being honest, pointing out that Drapeau appeared before a National Assembly committee to discuss Bill 101.

Throughout the early '80s Drapeau also repeatedly petitioned the provincial government to remove certain restrictions Bill 101 imposed on citizens, some of which were later made.

Every municipality on the island of Montreal rejected the PQ's proposed bill against religious symbols soon after it was introduced, with all saying they would immediately apply for an exemption.

Several weeks ago Lisée said that would not be allowed, and he suggested the exemption clause would be drastically scaled back when the PQ was ready to actually put pen to paper and present a bill to the National Assembly.

A poll conducted several months ago showed that just seven percent of Quebecers thought secular values were an election issue.

Candidates, pundits respond

Political pundit Jean Lapierre expressed considerable surprise at Lisee's comments Thursday and suggested that he's overstepping his authority.

"I saw him calling those candidates into his office. What is he doing? I mean he's not the Pope of Montreal after all."

None of the mayoral candidates expressed any intention to change to their opposition to the PQ initiative when interviewed by CTV Montreal Thursday.

"Come on, come on," said Projet Montreal's Richard Bergeron. "Does the mayor of Montreal represent the population of Montreal? I think the answer is yes."

"We want to make sure that Montreal is being respected culturally, we don't believe that the charter is the right thing for Montreal," said Melanie Joly.

And Denis Coderre, who polls suggest is the current frontrunner, was also defiant.

Coderre said he told Lisée of his opposition when they met a few days ago. "I said, 'I totally disagree and you'll find me in your road.'"

Religious services will remain in hospitals

Meanwhile the provincial government wants to reassure voters worried that, if the Charter passes, they will still be allowed to pray in a hospital.

Bernard Drainville said Thursday that chapels would not be removed from hospitals, and confirmed that patients will still be allowed to see the religious leader of their choice.

"If she or he wants to see a priest she or he has the right to see a priest but also another person who would like to see a rabbi, for example or an imam should be entitled to see one, so these services will have to be increasingly mutli-confessional," said Drainville.

Father Paul Geraghty of the pastoral services at the Montreal Children's hospital said his hospital already offers services for Christians and Jews.

"It's been our experience the Muslim community does not expect to have religious support in a hospital setting, but we are always willing to help put people in contact with imams," said Geraghty.

He added the chapel in the Children's Hospital was renovated ten years ago, and while it still has a very Christian appearance, his team would certainly never turn away anyone looking for spiritual guidance no matter their faith.

"Our new chapel, in the new hospital [at the Glen Yards] will be even more neutral," said Geraghty.