OTTAWA - The separatist Bloc Quebecois kicked one of its five members of Parliament out of its caucus on Thursday after she took a strong stand against a proposal by Quebec’s separatist government to ban public workers from wearing most religious symbols.
Demonstrating how the controversial proposal has caused divisions even among those who want Quebec to leave Canada, legislator Maria Mourani and a group of other separatists said the Parti Quebecois government was making a big error with its proposed Charter of Quebec Values in a bid for short-term gains.
The Bloc Quebecois runs separatists in elections for the Canadian House of Commons, and Bloc leader Daniel Paille said Mourani had irreconcilable differences with the Bloc.
On Tuesday, the Quebec government unveiled the charter, which would prohibit public workers from wearing Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.
The stated idea is to create a more secular state in which people of all religions or no religion felt welcome, a move which has widespread backing in Quebec, but it has triggered criticism from Mourani and many others that it in fact would exclude many religious people from public life.
“It is a grave strategic error,” read a declaration put out in French on Wednesday by Mourani and a group of other separatists who say they are for inclusive secularism.
A separatist government should not drive minorities into the arms of federalists by making them think Canadian law is their last defense against oppression, they argued: “It is not enough to win the next election. For Quebec independence, a sovereigntist government most be the most inclusive possible and must therefore embrace widely.”
In expelling Mourani, Paille said that far from being an electoral gambit or a grave error, the proposed charter “was a necessary and fundamental step for the Quebec nation.”
In the 1993 election, the Bloc Quebecois became the official opposition, as the party with the second most legislators in the House, but is now down to four of the 308 seats in the House.
However, its polling numbers have recovered somewhat of late, and last month’s leaks of the provincial Parti Quebecois government’s plans to introduce the secular dress code clearly boosted the Parti Quebecois’ standing in the polls.
An Aug. 28-29 Leger poll of voting preference had the Parti Quebecois jumping five percentage points to 32 percent, within striking distance of the 36 percent registered for the opposition Quebec Liberals, who favor keeping Quebec within Canada.
“Certainly based on the polling data done before (Tuesday), the green light was on for the Parti Quebecois, meaning it had all the looks of a winning issue for them,” Leger pollster Christian Bourque told Reuters on Wednesday.
He said it was too early to tell if that meant it would win the next election but it certainly meant the party was back in the race.
The Parti Quebecois won only a minority government in last year’s provincial election, meaning it must rely on the support of one or more opposition parties or face a new election, possibly in December this year or sometime next year.
The proposed charter has drawn condemnation from Canada’s three main federalist parties, and all the candidates for mayor of Quebec’s largest city, Montreal, proclaimed that they would have Montreal opt out of the dress code.
But La Presse columnist Denis Lessard said the Parti Quebecois doesn’t care about ripples in Montreal. “The rest of Quebec has a visceral distrust of the metropolis and its elites. What is unacceptable in Montreal goes down well in Gaspe, in Saguenay, in Huntingdon,” he wrote, referring to smaller towns.
All this does not mean that a referendum on separation is on the horizon. Previous votes went down to defeat in 1980 and 1995, though the second one lost by just over one percentage point. Support for independence currently hovers around 40 percent.
“I think the objective is to revive nationalism way before even thinking of reviving the potential for a referendum,” said pollster Bourque.