BY JUSTIN TRUDEAU
Leader of Liberal Party of Canada
EARLIER this week, Premier Marois unveiled her government’s much anticipated plan to legislate values in Quebec. As I have said since the PQ first announced this plan back in the 2012 election campaign, I categorically oppose it. Like our fellow Canadians elsewhere, we Quebecers are open, positive people. We believe in defending one another’s freedoms, not in restricting them.
I have great faith in the people of my home province. My message to Canadians from outside Quebec is a simple and important one: so should you. Resist the temptation to indulge in easy stereotypes and reactive characterizations of Quebec and Quebecers. The PQ government’s plan is divisive, negative and emotional. It is designed to be that way.
Quebecers will reject it.
I got into public life in part because I believed that politics can be done differently. It could be less petty and more transparent. Candour, especially during tense moments like this one, is risky but necessary. This summer, I met with Premier Marois and we discussed this issue openly and frankly. I said to her what I believe to be true: her plan does not accurately reflect Quebec. It would attack what we hold most dear: our right and our freedom as individuals to choose, and to express our beliefs within the context of universally recognized democratic laws and norms. There is no question that our government and our institutions must be neutral and secular; church and state must be separate. But by what logic should we restrict the freedom of some Quebecers to express their religious beliefs? Simply because they are not shared by the majority? This is a dangerous road, not just for religious minorities within Quebec, but for all minorities, everywhere in Canada.
The PQ’s plan divides the people of Quebec to solve a problem that does not exist. It creates two classes of citizens – those who hold religious beliefs and those who do not – under the pretext of secularizing a state that is already secular.
These universal rights and freedoms were entrenched in the Constitution because we believe they are at the core of our commitment to liberal, constitutional democracy. We enshrined them in both the Canadian and Quebec Charters precisely because they transcend — and sometimes need to be shielded from — the values of the government of the day. Quebecers and all Canadians have built a society that is the envy of the world because we have succeeded in making diversity an immeasurable asset. No Quebecer should be disqualified from a job in a public institution on the pretext that they pose a threat to state secularism. A Sikh or Jewish man, a Muslim woman or a woman who wants to wear a crucifix larger than the Parti Québécois dictates, should not have to choose between their religious belief and their economic well-being. These symbols do not detract from our great pride as French Quebecers. They do not diminish our ability to live and flourish in French, nor do they prevent us from passing onto our children the extraordinary richness of our language and our culture.
In the end, the PQ plan does not represent who we are. As René Lévesque himself said, we will be judged according to how we treat our minorities. The PQ government’s plan, if adopted, would see history render a very harsh verdict indeed.
Quebecers and Canadians deserve better than this. I have confidence that Quebecers will demand better than this, and so should you.