Poll raises questions about Quebec values charter

Many Quebecers think the province is already too accommodating

<p>Quebec Premier Pauline Marois makes an announcement on PQ food sovereignty, Thursday May 16, 2013 at Baie St-Paul.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Clement Allard</p>

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois makes an announcement on PQ food sovereignty, Thursday May 16, 2013 at Baie St-Paul.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Clement Allard

Clement Allard/CP

In the outcry from federal politicians over the Parti Québécois government’s proposed Quebec charter of values, a recurring theme is the prediction that Quebecers themselves will overwhelmingly reject the charter’s rules against provincial public servants wearing obvious religious symbols.

But a poll from Angus Reid Global—based on a survey conducted over four days just before the PQ unveiled (if that’s the right term) details of the controversial charter—reveals a deep divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada when it comes to making room for religious and ethnic minorities.

Results of the poll released this morning show 64 per cent of Quebecers believe the province is already doing too much to accommodate religious and cultural differences, but a mere 17 per cent of Canadians outside the province agree that Quebec is too accommodating.

It’s important to stress the timing of this poll. From Sept. 6-10, Angus Reid Global conducted a survey of 2,025 adults, about half from Quebec. Premier Pauline Marois’ government only formally announced how the charter would work—complete with those eye-popping illustrations of Muslim headscarfs, Sikh turbans and Jewish kippas that wouldn’t be allowed—on Sept. 10.

Reaction has been fierce. However, attention to the issue had been building for a few weeks before, after a late August leak of key elements of the charter. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made headlines by voicing his objections on Aug. 21 after meeting with Marois in Quebec City, making him the first federal leader to take a clear stand.

Since Sept. 10, Trudeau and other federal politicians have repeatedly expressed their expectation—or maybe it’s more a hope—that opposition inside Quebec will build as understanding of the charter grows. “I believe that what Ms. Marois is after is a controversy that will oppose the federal and provincial governments. But that’s not what we want,” Trudeau said last week, adding pointedly: “Quebecers themselves will oppose this charter and the federal government will not have to be the main spokesman in this debate.”

On Sunday, appearing on CTV’s Question Period, Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney painted a vivid picture of provincial officials “getting out a tape measure” to determine if religious symbols were too big, and went on to frame the backlash he anticipates: “I don’t think the majority of Quebecers will support that kind of overbearing application of the power of the state.”

The Angus Reid survey, conducted before the details were fully out—especially those much-discussed diagrams of permitted and banned religious garb—couldn’t capture the most up-to-date reaction. But it does offer some insight into the pre-existing public opinion climate. It’s too easy, one might think, for Canadians outside Quebec to be casually critical, when asked for a poll, about that province’s approach to minorities. But answers to questions about specific scenarios might be more telling.

For instance, Angus Reid asked about parents requesting a special menu for a child in daycare, and 64 per cent of respondents from Quebec said that would be unacceptable, while 52 per cent in the rest of Canada thought the request was acceptable. Or, asked about a situation in which students or workers request a room in which to practice their religion, 68 per cent in Quebec, but only 38 per cent in the rest of Canada, deemed that unacceptable.

Obviously, Marois and PQ strategists already understand the mindset of their target voters. “The inspiration for the PQ’s decision to retrench is purely electoralist,” as Paul Wells writes in his Maclean’s column this week. The question now is whether this story continues to emphasize reaction from outside Quebec or shifts, as Trudeau and Kenney are clearly hoping, to being much more about rejection of the charter concept inside the province.