MONTREAL - Jacques Parizeau, who has been a leading figure in the Quebec sovereignty cause for decades and a hero of the movement's grassroots, has voiced his opinion on the Parti Quebecois values charter.
And he's calling for it to be watered down.
The former PQ premier, who organized the 1995 independence referendum that nearly took Quebec out of Confederation, offered his suggestion in a column today 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.
The PQ government has 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.
This latest stand could be a test of how much influence Parizeau still wields within the PQ. In recent years he, and other more ardent sovereigntists, have drifted away toward the fringe-party Option nationale.
In his Journal de Montreal column, Parizeau says he believes this is the first time a Quebec government attempts to legislate against religion.
He says he believes the policy stems from a fear of Islam.
But Parizeau says 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 makes 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 begins with an overview of how Quebec public institutions were already made more secular in the 1960s, when he was a senior provincial public servant.