Conservative leadership contender and rookie MP Leslyn Lewis on Monday called a Quebec law restricting public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work “explicit religious discrimination.”
Lewis, who is running for the leadership a second time after placing third in the party’s 2020 race, says Conservatives must make decisions “based on principle” and not how it will be viewed by a particular demographic.
“Even making the right decision for purely political purposes is wrong. While I respect provincial jurisdiction, Bill 21 is explicit religious discrimination and as leader of our party, I will always defend religious freedom,” reads a statement made Monday.
Her stance on Quebec’s controversial secularism law, known by its legislative title of Bill 21, comes as other candidates have staked out their positions on the matter.
Some in the party expect the issue to become a policy debate during the race, which will run until a new leader is picked Sept. 10. So far, there are five candidates running and others have until April 19 to declare and June 3 to sell new memberships.
Different Tory MPs have said they believe the Conservatives must take a stronger stance against Bill 21 and criticized former leader Erin O’Toole for saying that while he personally opposes the law, it’s an issue best left up to Quebecers to decide. By contrast, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has left the door open on federal court intervention.
Lewis vowed Monday that if elected as party leader, she would condemn religious discrimination regardless of “who it is against or where it is happening.”
As a candidate in the 2020 race, Lewis enjoyed strong backing from the party’s social conservative wing, which, among other things, cares about religious freedoms.
Fellow leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre, a longtime Ottawa-area MP who is running as a candidate that champions all forms of freedoms, also came out opposing the law on Monday.
“It is wrong,” he said in a statement.
“If anyone proposed it federally, my government would not allow it to pass. I respect Quebec’s right to make its own laws, but hope the province repeals the bill.”
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who officially entered the race Sunday, made a point of saying in the speech he made to announce his candidacy that he forcefully stood against the law and believes the party can win while doing so.
During his time as a municipal leader, he also led the charge on big cities from across the countries pledging money to assist groups that are challenging Bill 21 in court.
Former Quebec premier and leadership candidate Jean Charest has also said he doesn’t support the law.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2022.