OTTAWA — The Bloc Quebecois says its message to voters after the first French-language leaders’ debate, urging them to choose politicians who “resemble you,” has nothing to do with someone’s background or religion.
“Voting for people who resemble you, means electing men and women who want a Quebec that is secular, green, welcoming, prosperous and francophone. Men and women who share the concerns and the aspirations of Quebecers,” wrote spokesperson Carolane Landry in a text message in French Thursday.
The party did not respond to a question asking if the tweet was directed at New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh, the only non-white leader on the stage whose turban has sparked discussion in light of Quebec’s controversial secularism law.
Four federal leaders participated in the event Wednesday: Singh, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. The Bloc tweeted the message after the debate wrapped on TVA, Quebec’s largest private French-language station.
The message translates to English as: “It’s yours. Opt for women and men who resemble you, who share your values, who care about your concerns and who work for your interests, for the interests of Quebecers. Only Quebecers. Tomorrow belongs to you.”
On Twitter, several journalists noted the word “ressemblent” translates as “look like you.” It appeared the tweet could mean don’t vote for Singh because he doesn’t look like you, don’t vote for Scheer because he doesn’t share your socially progressive values, and don’t vote for Trudeau because he won’t defend the sole interests of Quebecers.
By Thursday morning, Blanchet tweeted that he likes the NDP leader as a person.
He then accused Singh of calling the province’s secularism “disgusting”— an attack the NDP called “false and misleading” because it didn’t accurately reflect the context in which it had been used.
During the debate, Singh said it’s the Bloc’s strategy to sow social divisions every four years to score votes. He referenced the debate over the niqab in 2015 and called the election tactic “disgusting.”
“I have always been clear that I am a strong believer in secularism,” Singh told HuffPost on Thursday. “What I find disappointing is that the Bloc is trying to create an issue out of a non-election issue.”
Watch: Federal leaders discuss Quebec’s secularism law at French-language debate
He called the Bloc’s history of creating social divisions for political gain “horrible,” blaming Blanchet for resurrecting debate over the face-covering veils. “The Bloc never mentioned this in the past four years in the House of Commons,” Singh told reporters in French Wednesday night.
In the last federal election, the Bloc released inflammatory ads that were critical of then-leader Thomas Mulcair’s support of a woman’s religious freedom to wear a niqab during a citizenship ceremony.
The Singh-Blanchet exchange comes on the heels of continued debate over Quebec’s controversial secularism law. Bill 21, passed into law in June, prohibits some public-sector employees, such as school teachers, from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.
The issue has been discussed among federal leaders during the campaign. Blanchet backs the law, citing strong support among Quebecers, and stressing that it’s fundamental to respect the jurisdiction of the province’s National Assembly.
Trudeau has said he hasn’t shut the door on the possibility of intervening in legal challenges to the legislation. “Because for me, the defence of rights, be they for women, for francophones outside of Quebec — the federal government has a role to play,” he said.
Scheer has repeated that he would not introduce the law federally and has no plans to intervene on that matter that’s currently being challenged in provincial court. Singh has said that though he opposes the secularism law, he would also not intervene.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who wasn’t invited to join the TVA debate, has called the law a clear “infringement of human rights” but has refrained from making a promise to intervene at a federal level to respect Quebec’s jurisdiction.
Singh asked to ‘cut off’ his turban during market stroll
Hours before the debate, Singh was followed by reporters and cameras while he picked up some groceries at Montreal’s Atwater market. A man approached him with some unsolicited advice.
After shaking Singh’s hand, the man leaned into the NDP leader’s ear and suggested that he should “cut off” his turban so he could look “like a Canadian.” Singh disagreed.
“I think Canadians look like all sorts of people,” he said. “That’s the beauty of Canada.”
The man said, “Alright, take care,” as Singh walked away. “I hope you win,” he added.
Trudeau, speaking to reporters outside Cafe Olimpico in the city’s Mile End neighbourhood Thursday morning, was asked if the casual racist remark to Singh suggests that just monitoring the court challenge to Quebec’s secularism law is inadequate action.
“We are recognizing that Quebecers are defending their rights through the Charter the way the Charter is meant to be done,” Trudeau said.
“We’re gonna keep monitoring this process and if there is a moment where we feel the federal government should engage in this discussion formally, we will do that.”
With files from Althia Raj