Conservative Party leader won’t intervene in Quebec secularism law, supports Bill 101 expansion

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole says he will not intervene in Quebec’s contentious religious symbols ban for some public sector workers and that he supports the expansion of the province’s language charter.

After meeting with Premier François Legault on Monday in Montreal, O’Toole told reporters it was important to respect the independence of the province’s legislature.

When it comes to Quebec’s secularism law, O’Toole said he served in the military alongside practising Sikhs who wore turbans “and I understand it’s a difficult question.”

“But as a leader, we have to respect the Constitution and the partnerships we have in Canada,” he said.

The legislation, known as Bill 21, prohibits some workers — such as teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious garb while working. It has been the source of criticism and has led to legal challenges, but Legault has long maintained it has widespread support within the province.

Aside from secularism, O’Toole also said he supports an idea touted by Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language, to expand Bill 101 to federally regulated companies such as banks or Via Rail.

Large federal organizations should abide by Quebec law since it comes down to protecting the French language and culture, according to O’Toole.

“I think it’s a question of respect,” he said.

It was the first meeting between Legault and O’Toole after the latter won the Conservative Party leadership last month. The new leader said he was going to “work very hard” to earn the trust of Quebecers ahead of the next federal election.

“I want to double or triple that caucus,” he said.

With files from Global News’ Felicia Parrillo and the Canadian Press

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