MONTREAL – Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois suggested Wednesday her government would help state employees find private-sector work if they were fired for disobeying the values charter.
“We believe it is possible to find pathways to steer these people to other jobs that match their skills, because (the charter) does not touch the private sector,” Marois told Montreal radio station 98.5 FM.
“We are only looking at the public sector,” Marois said.
Later in the day the PQ leader said she doesn’t believe the proposed secular charter would result in public-sector employees losing their jobs.
Marois told a news conference ahead of Monday’s election she is confident a prescribed transition period would give employees time to adapt to the charter.
“I don’t think that (firings) will be the case because we will work on these issues with the different institutions and we will try to (find) some solutions in these circumstances,” she said.
The charter would restrict government employees from wearing religious symbols like hijabs, turbans, kippas and larger-than-average crucifixes while on the job.
While the notion of employees being fired is not a topic the government has entertained much, Marois was forced to comment Wednesday after one of her candidates raised the possibility of such dismissals.
Evelyne Abitbol was asked pointedly during a political debate on Tuesday whether doctors who continued to wear a kippa would lose their job if the charter were adopted.
She first replied that doctors in such cases would be fired within a year before she backtracked and said there was a five-year transition period for hospitals.
Marois defended Abitbol, calling her a great supporter of the charter.
“She understands the charter and defends it with a lot of heart and passion and I’m certain that she doesn’t wish, any more than I do, that people lose their jobs,” Marois said.
The PQ leader said earlier this week she is ready to re-introduce the values charter as is and even go as far as to invoke the rarely used notwithstanding clause to ensure it is adopted.
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard pointed to Abitbol’s comments as proof that jobs would be lost in the charter era.
“We will never be complicit with such an unprecedented discriminatory measure in Quebec,” Couillard said Wednesday. “It’s obvious that if the charter is taken to its logical conclusion, then it leads to people being fired and Madame Marois cannot deny it.”
Couillard was asked what he thought about Marois saying her government would help people find new employment if they lost their job for wearing a religious symbol.
“Oh really,” he said sarcastically. “So the person has to choose between her — because most of the time we talk about women —identity and a job. What a terrible thing to do.
“For the first female (Quebec) premier to take such an unprecedented discriminatory approach toward women is highly ironic.
“I’m not interested in what people have on their head. I want what’s in their head. I want them to be good civil servants. And what they wear or don’t wear, provided the faces are uncovered, has absolutely no impact on the way they carry out their responsibility.”
The PQ’s sovereignty agenda and mudslinging over integrity issues have taken considerable attention away from the controversial secularism charter, which the PQ had cited as its priority before the election was called.
Also on Wednesday, Couillard defended a $1.2-million severance package given to Gaetan Barrette, one of his star candidates, prior to his jump into politics.
Barrette, who was president of the federation representing medical specialists between 2006 and this year, said he was comfortable with the golden parachute.
He noted it was written into his contract and voted on and paid for by federation members.
Couillard said he won’t ask Barrette to step down and doesn’t believe the payment will be an issue if he’s ever called to negotiate with the federation as health minister.
“The links have been completely severed between him and the federation…Plus, I know Dr. Barrette and I can tell you he’s a tough and frank and interesting person to negotiate with,” he said.