Conservatives clarify opposition to Bill 21 following vote for notwithstanding clause

Not sure that they will be able to appease all the various groups, whether community or regional, with this approach of trying to have it both ways:

The federal Conservatives are trying to reassure the World Sikh Organization of Canada that the party remains opposed to Quebec’s secularism law after its MPs voted in support of a provision the province used to make it into law.

On Monday, the Conservatives voted en masse in favour of a Bloc Québécois motion recognizing that provinces have a “legitimate right” to use the notwithstanding clause, including pre-emptively.

In Tuesday’s letter to Balpreet Singh, a spokesman for the Sikh association, deputy Conservative leader Tim Uppal said the Liberals are trying to spin a narrative that the Conservatives explicitly support the “pre-emptive use” of the clause.

The clause is a provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows provincial and federal governments to pass laws that circumvent parts of the Charter for a period of up to five years.

When the clause is invoked pre-emptively, it effectively prevents anyone from launching a legal challenge in court.

“We’re talking about the suspension of human rights and the erosion of the charter,” Singh said. “And that’s a huge hit. Not just for minorities, but for all Canadians.”

The Sikh organization is among groups vocally opposed to Quebec’s secularism law, which bans some public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols such as turbans at work.

Premier Francois Legault’s government invoked the notwithstanding clause to usher in the law, as well as Bill 96, which reforms provincial language laws.

In 2021, the Ontario government used the notwithstanding clause to restore parts of the Election Finances Act. It also invoked the clause last year to impose a new contract on education workers, but quickly backed down from the measure.

In his letter, Uppal says the notwithstanding provision is a “long-standing part” of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the ability of provinces to use it is “the legal reality.”

He goes on to say Trudeau’s government has “not made any attempts to change it,” despite having been in power since 2015.

“Since Bill 21 was introduced in March of 2019, the Liberal government has taken no action in the courts to oppose it,” Uppal said.

Uppal says that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been clear he is against the Quebec law, and while he respects the province’s ability to pass its own legislation, he hopes it is repealed.

Singh said Tuesday that he appreciates the clarification, but is disappointed with the Conservatives choosing to vote for a motion that appears to be “empowering” provinces to use the clause.

“You can’t say that they can use the notwithstanding clause willy-nilly,” he suggested, while also arguing against Bill 21.

Source: Conservatives clarify opposition to Bill 21 following vote for notwithstanding clause

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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