PQ says public loves the values charter

Government hins that any changes to the plan would only toughen it

QUEBEC – The Quebec government says it has heard from the public on its controversial values charter — and is ready to adapt the plan as a result.

The government is hinting that any changes to the plan would only toughen it.

The Parti Quebecois’ Bernard Drainville says the government is reflecting on a pair of changes: removing the crucifix from the legislature, and reducing the opt-out provisions for institutions.

Those are the conclusions he’s drawing from the 26,000 comments posted on the PQ government’s website.

He says 47 per cent were entirely favourable of the plan, and 21 per cent were mostly favourable but wanted some changes.

Drainville lumped those two categories together and said that means 68 per cent favour the charter. He says only 18 per cent were opposed.

But he won’t release the comments. He says that would betray the trust of people who shared their stories and their opinions.

“People didn’t write to us for these comments to be made public,” Drainville said.

Drainville did read some of the complimentary ones, though, at a news conference today.

He also said that the main changes requested by commenters were that the crucifix be withdrawn from the legislature; opt-out provisions be tightened; and that the plan’s name be modified to “secularism charter.”

As presented recently, the values plan would forbid people with headscarves, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-usual crucifixes from working for public institutions.

For now, the plan would allow institutions to withdraw for five-year periods.

Drainville said he intends to table legislation in the fall. However, it’s unlikely to gain the support of opposition parties in its current form. The minority government is believed to be mulling a snap election for December.

That would help place identity issues at the heart of the PQ’s election campaign. Opponents accuse the PQ of trying to use that issue to distract voters from a lacklustre economy.

One free-market think-tank, the Montreal Economic Institute, picked up on that theme today by tweeting that the provincial debt had increased $966 million since the PQ released its religion plan on Sept. 10.

As for an election, a poll published in Montreal La Presse today suggests it could be a tossup: it places the PQ four percentage points behind the Liberals, but with a sizeable lead amongst francophones who are a majority in virtually every riding outside Montreal.

Still, the CROP poll suggests, that lead among francophones remains smaller than the share the PQ received in last year’s election when it won a minority.

The web poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted from Oct. 17 to 21.

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