Quebec Premier Pauline Marois says her party's planned "Charter of Quebec Values," which would include a ban on religious headwear for public employees, will be a uniting force for the province.
In her first public comments on the controversial proposal since details were revealed last week, Marois rejected any suggestion the new rules would be a source of division among the population.
Instead, Marois said the charter will help bring Quebec together, much like Bill 101, the province's landmark legislation aimed at protecting the French language.
The charter will affirm, once and for all, the equality between men and women, she said, and it will reflect not only "universal" values, but Quebec values as well.
"It will become, I'm certain, a strong uniting element between Quebecers," Marois said Sunday at a gathering of young PQ members in Quebec City. "We're moving forward in the name of all the women, all the men, who chose Quebec for our culture, for our freedom and for our diversity."
Leaked details, published in a media report last week, include a plan to prohibit people like doctors, teachers and public daycare workers from donning turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crucifixes.
Marois said the charter would be the culmination of a long process that began a half-century ago with the secularization of Quebec's public institutions, such as schools.
She didn't take questions from reporters after her speech.
Past polls have suggested such a charter would be popular in Quebec, but last week's new details drew an angry response from some pundits and minority groups.
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The PQ, which is planning to bring forward the legislation this fall, has a minority government and it's not clear yet whether the plan will get support from opposition parties.
Philippe Couillard, the new Quebec Liberal leader who has been highly critical of the idea, said Sunday he would try to be "constructive" in dealing with the charter.
But he accused the PQ of trying to distract voters from more important issues.
"I see this as quite an obvious attempt to move citizens' attention away from jobs and the economy," he said.