OTTAWA, August 29, 2013 ( – Prime Minister Steven Harper broke his silence today, questioning the motives behind Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values that would ban religious symbols in public workplaces.

“We know that the separatist government in Quebec would love to pick fights with Ottawa, but that’s not our business,” Harper said at a news conference in Toronto. “Our business is the economy. Our business is job creation for Canadians — all Canadians including Quebecers, and our job is social inclusion.”

Last week Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ government announced plans for the controversial legislation that would ban “conspicuous” religious symbols worn by public employees at work. The “Charter of Quebec Values” would forbid employees in courts, law-enforcement, schools, hospitals, and daycares from wearing items such as turbans, hijabs, kippas, and crucifixes.

“What divides Quebeckers is not diversity. It is the absence of clear rules so that we can move onward in harmony,” said Marois on the weekend to young PQ supporters who met in Quebec City.

“To recognize secularism as a Quebec value is to take cognizance of the evolution of a people which, for the past half century, has become increasingly secular and has taken the confessional character out of its institutions,” she said.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau announced his concerns about religious freedom in Quebec last week.

“I have enormous concerns about the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he told reporters in Quebec City after a meeting with Marois.

“I’m worried that it’s more about politics than it is about the rights of citizens. It’s important the state and its institutions be neutral, but the freedom of expression, freedom of religion are freedoms that are accessible to all Canadians regardless of who they work for,” he told reporters earlier at a visit to an agricultural fair in Montmagny, Quebec.

However, Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, dismissed Trudeau’s comments a “show of his continued hypocrisy”.

“Trudeau has supported taxpayer-funded abortion, which forces Christians to act against their consciences and religious beliefs. He’s also supported bringing homosexual activist clubs into Catholic schools, which forces the Catholic Church to choose whether or not to violate its religious beliefs.”

“And now he suddenly comes charging in on a white horse as a defender of religious freedom?” he asked.

While Hughes says he strongly opposes the proposed charter, he called Trudeau’s comments a “political move” to “score points with a disaffected audience.”

Trudeau has also said in the past that he would not allow his MPs a conscience vote on abortion, if the issue came up in Parliament while he was Prime Minister.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who earlier had called the proposed charter a “trial balloon”, raised his concern that the legislation might make a scapegoat of minority Quebecers.

“I don’t want to see scapegoating, particularly of Muslim women,” Mulcair told reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday.

“That seems to be one of the particular targets here. So we’ll wait and see what’s in it.”

The Charter, set to be revealed in the fall, is the latest move against public expression of religious belief by a province that has become increasingly hostile to religious believers.

Catholic schools have been forbidden from teaching Catholic courses on religion and morality. Government-funded daycares have been gutted of anything religious, and religious leaders have been barred from visiting them. Private citizens have been fined for holding religious ceremonies in public buildings rented for that purpose.

Dr. Bruce Hicks, a political science professor at Carleton, believes that the Marois government allowed the proposed charter to be leaked for “strategic purposes”, saying that there is “no possible way a document like that can get through a minority National Assembly”.

“There’s an old joke that says governments only ship the leaks from the top,” he told Joel Balsam writing for “It’s very rare something this important gets leaked unless it’s for strategic purposes, so the question is what are the strategic purposes?”

“One of the purposes could be to get everyone excited about an imagined threat,” he said, “and then when you bring in the document it’s much milder, and everyone is willing to accept it.”

“Or, it’s the real document, and you are trying to get the debate going to divert the attention from something else,” he added.

Hicks said that the PQ has had a “few stumbles since taking office” and that forcing a debate on the proposed charger is “easier than having a debate on the economy or some of other things that aren’t going exactly the way that is ideally suited for the government.”

Marois defended the proposed charter, saying that it will be a force for unity among Quebecers in the same way the province’s language laws have been.