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EDITORIAL: Atlantic premiers should follow Manitoba's lead and appeal to workers fed up with Quebec's Bill 21

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has condemned Quebec’s Bill 21. Postmedia News

Let's recruit in Quebec

You know it’s serious when they drag hockey into it.

That’s where Quebec Premier François Legault went in defending his province against the predatory tactics of Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

The two sparred last week over an ad campaign that Manitoba is sponsoring in Quebec newspapers. In French, the ads list 21 good reasons for civil servants to move to Manitoba. There is also a photo in the ad of a woman wearing a headscarf.

The ads also point out that Manitoba respects diversity, that the province has many French speakers and that you can wear any religious symbol you like if you work for the provincial government.

These are not-so-sly references to Bill 21, Quebec’s odious secularism law, which bans provincial government employees from wearing religious symbols. This means that if you want to work as a teacher in Quebec, for example, you may not wear the hijab, or headscarf, worn to conform to Islamic standards of modesty.

The bill is being challenged in the courts by several groups in Quebec as an attack on civil liberties.

Pallister’s government has condemned the law, so Legault was testy when asked about the ads, saying other premiers should mind their own business and stay out of Quebec’s affairs. That’s when hockey came up.

“I think Mr. Pallister should work to keep his own people in Manitoba, like Dustin Byfuglien with the Jets.”

Them’s fightin’ words. Byfuglien, embroiled in a dispute with the Winnipeg Jets, hasn’t played yet this year. The Jets are contenders, so retaining the talented Byfuglien is serious business in Manitoba.

Given another opportunity this week to comment at a meeting of premiers in Toronto, both premiers held their fire, preferring instead to focus on things all provinces agreed on, such as requiring more money from Ottawa for health care.

Not to stoke the fire or anything, but Atlantic premiers should follow Manitoba’s example.

After all, we respect diversity too, right? There are pockets of French speakers here, too, and heck, New Brunswick is bilingual. And we need new residents in Atlantic Canada more than ever, whether they're from foreign countries or within our own, to help fight some tough demographic trends that are worrying policymakers whose job it is to figure out how to pay tomorrow’s bills.

Here’s something else we need: health-care workers. Bill 21 lists teachers, Crown attorneys and police officers as specifically subject to the provisions of the act, but not doctors or nurses, so it's unclear whether they'd be prevented from wearing headscarfs.

But maybe there are health professionals in Quebec who would listen to a Manitoba-style recruitment appeal to move east. Maybe some of them are just miffed enough by Bill 21 that they would welcome a chance to work in a place where they don’t have to worry about what religious symbols they’re wearing.

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