MONTREAL – Jacques Parizeau, a leading figure in the Quebec sovereignty cause for decades and a hero of the movement’s grassroots, wants the Parti Quebecois values charter to be watered down.
The former PQ premier, who organized the 1995 independence referendum that nearly took Quebec out of Confederation, offered his views in a column Thursday in Le Journal de Montreal.
He suggests the ban on religious headwear be scaled back and applied only to people in positions of authority, like judges and police, which he says is what the province’s Bouchard-Taylor commission recommended a few years ago. That also happens to be closer to the position of the Coalition party, which holds the swing vote in the legislature.
“I wouldn’t go any further for the moment,” Parizeau wrote in the column.
The PQ government responded by saying that it welcomes Parizeau’s suggestions, as it does those of all citizens.
A co-founder of the PQ in 1968, Parizeau repeatedly gained the admiration of the party’s more hawkish wing.
Whenever he felt the PQ was straying too far from the independence goal, he fought back, as he did when he quit the Rene Levesque cabinet in 1984.
And, unlike other PQ leaders who took a go-slow approach to independence, he pushed forward with a referendum strategy as soon as he was elected in 1994. The day after the referendum loss, which in a bitter concession speech he had blamed on “money and the ethnic vote,” he quit politics.
In an interview Thursday on Montreal radio station 98.5 FM, Parizeau said those 1995 comments targeted specific groups — and not individuals.
”The common front of the Italian, Greek and Jewish congresses was politically active in an extraordinary way in the No camp and had formidable success,” Parizeau told host Paul Arcand.
”It was very efficient.”
Parizeau also said in the radio interview that, with the proposed charter, ”a fire is starting in our society.”
The former premier said newly arrived immigrants are starting to be scared.
”All these people come from countries that are rife with conflict, crises and tension based on these religious matters. Here they had peace…And now all of a sudden we’re going in with our big boots.”
Parizeau’s latest stand could be a test of how much influence he still wields within the PQ. In recent years he and other more ardent sovereigntists have drifted away toward the fringe party Option nationale.
In the column, Parizeau said he believes this is the first time a Quebec government has attempted to legislate against religion.
He said he believes the policy stems from a fear of Islam.
“It’s understandable,” he said.
“About the only contact most Quebecers have with the Islamic world is through images of violence, repeated ad infinitum: wars, riots, bombs, the World Trade Center attack and the one at the Boston marathon. There’s also the image of the subjugation of women and the violence against them when they try to free themselves. The reaction is obvious: Don’t bring that here!
“It’s less the case in Montreal, where we interact more.”
But Parizeau said Quebecers are not mean or vindictive people, pointing to a poll this week that suggested a strong majority opposed firing someone over their religious headwear.
He made one other suggestion in his column: that the crucifix be removed from the central spot it holds in the Quebec legislature and moved to another place in the building.
The column began with an overview of how Quebec public institutions were already made more secular in the 1960s, when he was a senior provincial public servant.
Critics might pick at some aspects of Parizeau’s analysis. While he describes Montreal as unique in the province, polls have suggested there’s not much of a gap between francophones in Montreal and other parts of the province on the issue. In fact, among francophones, support for the charter has been lowest in Quebec City, not Montreal.
Also, in his reference to the poll on Quebecers’ willingness to see headscarf-wearers fired, he might have overstated the number of those opposing the idea. He referred to “three-quarters” opposed to the notion of firing someone but that number was a national figure and actually somewhat lower in Quebec.