Legault would override charter
Policy wins approval from France’s Le Pen
Quebec’s next premier and his Coalition Avenir Québec party will focus on the nationalist identity issues that helped to bring it to power, and François Legault says he is prepared to invoke the notwithstanding clause to ensure public officials in authority do not wear religious symbols.
Legault, bolstered by a stunning victory that cost outgoing Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberals more than half their seats in the National Assembly, also told reporters Tuesday he has no intention of softening his controversial campaign promises to reduce annual immigration to Quebec and institute language and values tests.
His stance received approval from Marine Le Pen, president of France’s far-right National Rally party.
Asked about his party’s plans to expel newcomers who cannot pass French-language and values tests three years after their arrival, he said: “We want to integrate them and continue to receive them. The image of Quebec (internationally) will depend on the actions that we pose, and I want to do things that show that Quebec is inclusive.”
QUEBEC • Quebec Premierdesignate François Legault says he is prepared to invoke the notwithstanding clause to ensure public officials in positions of authority do not wear religious symbols.
The day after a momentous election victory in which he re-drew Quebec’s political map, Legault said he wants to build a “strong Quebec inside Canada.”
But the first provincial government since the 1960s to be neither Liberal nor Parti Québécois will be strongly nationalist with a focus on the Quebec identity issues that helped bring it to power.
The leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec told a Quebec City news conference he has no intention of softening his controversial campaign promises to reduce annual immigration to Quebec and institute language and values tests for recent arrivals.
Legault said his proposed ban on religious symbols for teachers, judges and police officers is important enough to override protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The outgoing Couillard government’s law prohibiting officials publicsector workers from wearing face-covering garments already faces a legal challenge.
“I think the vast majority of Quebecers, they would like to have a framework where we say that people in authority positions must not wear religious signs, and if we have to use the notwithstanding clause to apply what the majority of Quebecers want, we will do so,” he said.
His tough stance received approval Tuesday from Marine Le Pen, president of France’s far-right National Rally party (formerly the Front National), who called his policies “lucid” and “firm.”
Legault said that starting next year, 10,000 fewer immigrants will be arriving annually in Quebec, dropping from the current level of 50,000.
“At 40,000 immigrants a year, Quebec will receive more, per capita, than the United States and France,” Legault said in defence of his policy. “Our objective is to better integrate them, teach them French, find them a good job and recognize their diplomas.”
He was asked about international headlines labelling his party anti-immigrant because it plans to expel newcomers who cannot pass French-language and values tests three years after their arrival.
“I want to be uniting,” he said. “We want to integrate them and continue to receive them. The image of Quebec (internationally) will depend on the actions that we pose, and I want to do things that show that Quebec is inclusive.”
Monday’s election was a blow to the parties that for decades made up Quebec’s political establishment.
Outgoing Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberals, at 32 seats, lost more than half of what they won in 2014 while the PQ, at nine seats, was stripped of its official party status. Both hit all-time lows in the popular vote.
Losing party status means the PQ, the party of René Lévesque that once claimed to represent the collective aspirations of the Québécois people, will lose speaking time in the legislature and money for research budgets.
Legault promised to “put money back in the wallets of Quebecers,” invest more in early detection for learning disabilities in children, reorganize the health-care system so it’s more efficient and reduce Quebec’s dependence on equalization payments from the federal government.
Legault said he would be speaking later in the day with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland about the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
He said he had not been briefed on the specifics and has not ruled out any measures to respond to a deal that has been denounced by Quebec dairy farmers.
As for the rest of Canada, Legault said it has nothing to worry about because his government will be “collaborative.”
“I think many things can be done between Quebec and Canada regarding the economy. We have common challenges in improving productivity of our companies,” he said.
“I am a pragmatic guy,” Legault said. “We are a pragmatic party.”