François Legault defends decision to quash debate over immigration, religious symbols bills

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Quebec Premier François Legault had pledged to pass both the immigration and secularism bills by the end of the parliamentary session. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Quebec Premier François Legault says there’s a risk of upsetting “social cohesion” in the province if the debate over religious symbols is allowed to linger any longer.

Legault will invoke closure to pass his government’s controversial secularism and immigration bills, putting an end to debate at the province’s National Assembly over the two controversial pieces of legislation.

The premier said Friday he campaigned on commitments to act on those issues during last fall’s election campaign, and he got a mandate to act.

“There’s a clear opinion from Quebecers that we received on Oct. 1, eight months ago,”  said Legault, whose party, elected with 38 per cent of the popular vote, holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

“I think it’s good for what we call the vivre ensemble.”

The province’s winter legislative session was to end Friday, but Legault pushed back the summer break and extended the session through the weekend to vote on the bills.

Legault accused the opposition of intentionally delaying debate rather than coming up with “constructive” ideas for how the bills could be improved.

“When I tabled the bill a couple of months ago, I was very clear that my intention was to adopt the bill before the end of the session and right now the only thing we see is obstruction,” he said.

Give us more time, opposition says

Québec Solidaire, the second opposition party at the National Assembly, said the CAQ didn’t give lawmakers enough time to fully explore the ramifications of the proposed laws.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the party’s co-spokesperson, pointed out the study of Bill 21, the secularism legislation, was put before a parliamentary commission only 10 days ago, on June 4. 

“No serious or credible person who knows how this assembly works could think that in a few days this bill would be adopted using the regular procedures,” he said.

Manon Massé, left, and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokespersons of Québec Solidaire, at the end-of-session news conference on Friday June 14. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Bill 21 would prevent public employees in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Minority groups have raised concerns it will encourage discrimination and limit employment opportunities for thousands of Quebecers, especially Muslim women who wear the hijab.

The bill invokes the notwithstanding clause, which the government hopes will spare it from being challenged in court on grounds it violates the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights.

The Parti Québécois, which favours a strong secularism law, also argued for more debate on the bill, in the hopes of making it more forceful.

Interim leader Pascal Bérubé‎ ​​​​​​said he still wants the ban on religious symbols to extend beyond teachers and include daycare workers.

The proposed immigration law, Bill 9, sets out the framework for a Quebec values test would-be immigrants will need to pass in order to become a permanent resident.

If the bill becomes law, the government will throw out some 18,000 pending applications for skilled immigrant worker status in Quebec, forcing the applicants to re-apply through a new merit-based system.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said Friday the law is necessary to better integrate newcomers and address the province’s labour shortage.

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