Tension is mounting in Quebec City, where cabinet minister Simon Jolin-Barrette is under increasing pressure from the opposition – and also facing criticism from journalists.
As the minister for immigration, diversity and inclusiveness, Jolin-Barrette is responsible for two controversial bills: Bill 9 on immigration reform and Bill 21 of religious symbols, both of which the CAQ hopes to adopt before the end of the spring session in two weeks.
“You cannot criticize the fact that I'm working multiple hours on two important bills of the government,” he said.
The Liberals, though, contend that the minister is spreading himself too thin. They say he isn't available to answer questions on immigration reform due to being too focused on the government's bill on religious symbols.
“When you really focus on two bills that are really critical and it's only one person, there's only so much one person can do and we see the results. I don't know how he's going to operate for the next two weeks,” said Liberal immigration critic Dominique Anglade. “I cannot imagine being in a commission on immigration and not having the minister there. It's impossible to work in a democracy.”
Jolin-Barrette is also facing criticism from the parliamentary press gallery. The board representing journalists sent a formal letter denouncing the government's choice to study the immigration bill in a room with no cameras and limited media access, despite two new commission rooms opening last week as part of a $60-million extension of the National Assembly.
“We want to have transparency. We're not getting the transparency that we need, the population is not getting the transparency that we need. I think the reporters aren't either,” said Angalde.
A clause-by-clause study of the religious symbols bill is happening in one of the new rooms, named after Marie-Claire Kirkland, the first female member of the National Assembly.
It’s ironic to be studying Bill 21 in that particular room, said David, arguing the CAQ's proposed ban on religious symbols will take away women's rights.
“She was a minister and she passed many laws for women and she increased the rights of women,” said Liberal secularism critic Helene David. “This is a very, very sad day for us.”
That link goes too far, said Pascal Berube, the PQ’s interim leader.
“Any time someone tries to explain what could be the reaction of a dead politician, it's shameful. So it's ridiculous,” he said.