It would no longer be possible for a doctor, nurse or teacher currently on the public payroll to lose their job for wearing a cross or hijab in the workplace in a toned down “values charter” presented Thursday by Bernard Drainville.
But, in the future, new hires would not have such a right and would have to understand the state must not only be secular it must appear to be, Drainville said.
Conceding the original Parti Québécois government’s charter of values tried to change too much too fast, Drainville — a candidate for the party leadership — retreated on several key elements of the original bill he tried to steer into law while minister of democratic institutions in the former government.
He said his new package better respects the body of opinion on the matter.
My objective is to rally a certain number of people who were against the charter
“My objective is to rally a certain number of people who were against the charter,” Drainville told reporters at a news conference. “I want to create a greater consensus.”
“We have to go more gradually. That’s one of the lessons I got in this debate.”
Gone from Drainville’s vision is the possibility under the old charter of someone losing their job for refusing to leave their religious garb at home when they walked into work.
Drainville’s new “values charter 2.0,” instead proposes to grandfather the rights of people who are already employed by institutions that would be affected by the charter.
“I am saying I got the message [from Quebecers]. I understand when you said you did not want to see anyone lose their job.”
The ban would only apply to new employees if and when the charter is adopted — which also assumes the PQ will be back in power in four years.
His efforts to stir up the values pot did not go over well with the Liberal government or other opposition members.
From England, where he is on a trade mission, Premier Philippe Couillard said the PQ has a “strange set of priorities,” in wanting to talk about the charter when the real priority for Quebecers is the economy.
In an interview, Québec solidaire MNA Françoise David ripped Drainville, saying even with his attempt to make the charter easier to swallow, the debate would invariably veer into the ban on religious symbols. And that distracts people from the real issue, which is fighting religious fundamentalism.
Drainville’s idea of applying the ban to new workers also doesn’t make sense and unfairly targets women who overwhelmingly dominate the health and education sectors, she said.
“What do we do with the young Muslim woman studying today to be a nurse in the future?” David asked. “We are slamming the door on her.”
David’s view on the ban is that Quebec should stick with the old Bouchard-Taylor commission’s formula, which would only ban authority figures such as judges, police officers and prison officials from wearing religious symbols.
But Drainville makes another key concession from the old charter.
While his new ban on religious symbols would still apply to the entire public sector — including judges, police officers, prison agents, health-care workers, doctors, elementary and high school teachers and public daycare workers — he drops CEGEPs, universities and municipalities from the list.
Drainville retreated in those areas — which drew staunch opposition in the old charter — arguing they want to maintain their independence. Now Drainville wants these establishments to create their own internal religious-neutrality policies.
They don’t want democracy. They don’t want equality between men and women. We can’t let them dictate our actions
Under questioning, however, Drainville revealed that an exemption clause from the old bill (Bill 60 incorporated the charter) would stand, allowing certain institutions, such as the Jewish General Hospital, to be exempt from the values charter on religious grounds.
Unlike the day in August 2013 when Drainville presented the original charter, this operation was far more modest and did not include any of the pictograms or teams of experts on hand to answer complex questions.
Sitting alone behind a table at the National Assembly press gallery, Drainville said he has fewer resources at his disposal.
However, other familiar themes of the old bill are back: Drainville wants to amend the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include state neutrality and create a framework for religious accommodation, and no person could deliver or receive government services with a covered face.
Drainville faced questions about the timing of his announcement on a religious issue so soon after the tragedy in Paris where 20 people died. He argued he had made a promise to present a new charter in December. Failing to act in the wake of Paris would be like caving in to extremism.
“Any delay amounts to saying the extremists are right,” Drainville said. “They don’t want democracy. They don’t want equality between men and women. We can’t let them dictate our actions.”
He insisted the new charter had little to do with the PQ leadership campaign, in which he’s trailing badly. He said as the minister responsible for the charter in the old Pauline Marois government, he felt he had a responsibility to carry on the work because it’s necessary.
And he dismissed the theory that the old charter, which divided Quebecers and sparked social strife, had anything to do with the PQ’s electoral loss after only 18 months in office.
Comparison of Drainville’s charter proposals
PQ’s original charter
• The ban on ostentatious religious symbols in the workspace was sweeping and applied to the entire public sector including justice, health and education. The bill defined the symbols as “overt and conspicuous,” which meant a tiny crucifix or small ring with the Star of David or earring was fine, but anything big was not.
• The bill provided for a five-year exemption from the ban for CEGEPs, universities, health care and municipalities. In the uproar, many institutions said they would use the exemption.
• Private schools and non-subsidized daycare centres were not covered.
• It would be mandatory to have one’s face uncovered while providing or receiving a state service.
• In the name of religious heritage, the giant crucifix on Mont Royal and other religious symbols in the public space — such as the crucifix over
the speaker’s chair in the blue room of the National Assembly — would remain. Employees would still be allowed office Christmas trees.
• Amend the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms to entrench religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of institutions.
• The big change in the proposal is the so-called grandfather clause. That means that while the plan is still to ban conspicuous religious symbols in the whole public sector, existing workers would have acquired rights and not have to respect the rules.
• Implicit in the new package is that no employee thus could be fired for refusing to comply, which emerged as the real stumbling block for the short-lived PQ government.
• The new ban would thus only apply to new hires. As Drainville stated, working for the government carries with it responsibilities and one of them is to not express, or display, one’s personal convictions.
• Respecting their independence, Drainville said the new ban would not apply to CEGEPs, universities and municipalities. They would, however, be required to adopt their own internal religious neutrality policies.
• Added to the charter would be the creation of an observatory on religious fundamentalism and a 1-800 phone line where people could report honour crimes.
• The National Assembly crucifix could be moved elsewhere in the legislature if MNAs vote to do so.