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New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

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OTTAWA — While most Canadians firmly back the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and strongly support the idea of diversity, a new poll suggests a third of Canadians would ban their elected officials from wearing religious symbols.

A majority of Quebecers canvassed in the survey agreed that federal, provincial and local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job.

Nationally, 49 per cent of respondents said they would not favour such a ban, but 37 per cent said they would support it.

The Leger Marketing poll was done to gauge public sentiment in light of a proposed secularism law in Quebec that would ban public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

The proposed law would not extend to elected officials, but a question about whether it should was included among questions about how Canadians in different provinces feel about religions and religious signs.

Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, which commissioned the survey, says a deeper dive into the numbers shows the strongest supporters of such a ban for politicians are those more likely to feel threatened by religious minorities. They also expressed negative feelings toward Islam, Muslims and react negatively to hijabs.

Respondents who said they interact more with and are comfortable around religious minorities are less likely to support banning religious symbols for elected officials, the data suggests.

Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of all of those surveyed said they have positive views of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and also said they favour multiculturalism.

The results indicate what Jedwab calls a “striking paradox” among Canadians.

“(People) express broad appreciation of diversity and say that our society is tolerant and accepting of religious-minority customs and traditions, yet at the same time … we, to a significant degree, don’t like the idea of politicians wearing religious symbols or signs.”

The results of this survey suggest federal leaders will have to approach issues of religious symbolism carefully in seat-rich Quebec as the province moves to enact its secularism law while federal parties gear up for a fall federal election.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a practising Sikh who sports a brightly coloured turban, will have an especially challenging time in Quebec, Jedwab says.

“He’s going to probably encounter some challenges that people probably will not express publicly, but that they feel privately,” he said.

“Those feelings are out there … Is it going to affect his chances of getting elected? It’s difficult to say. It creates a new layer that is out there.”

During the last federal election campaign, religious symbolism became a flashpoint after the Federal Court of Canada upheld a lower court’s decision to strike down the former Conservative government’s ban on wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies.

Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair took a firm stance against the ban — a move he later said he believes cost him the election, as support for the ban was strong in Quebec, where his party base was strongest.

Jedwab says he believes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau successfully skirted backlash on the niqab issue in 2015 because Mulcair took the brunt of Quebecers’ concerns.

This time, Trudeau — who has spoken against the secularism bill and who has taken a strong stance in favour of welcoming immigrants and minorities — could have a more turbulent ride.

“It’s going to be challenging for him because he needs to build and/or strengthen his base in Quebec. The challenge will be that there is a lot of support for these types of restrictions,” Jedwab said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will also have to walk a fine line on issues of religious symbolism and immigration, Jedwab added.

“The polling numbers in this poll nationally suggest (Scheer) may be able to find a line through this thing where he says, ‘We understand people’s fears and insecurities, but we need to respect the Charter of Rights.’ I don’t think Mr. Trudeau will be saying he understands people’s fears and insecurities, because that will validate them,” Jedwab said.

This survey of respondents drawn from an online panel canvassed the opinions of 2,215 adults between May 3 and 7.

—Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — The NDP’s Charlie Angus says he expects ethics commissioner Mario Dion to be in a position to testify today before a parliamentary committee about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against a Montreal engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, the report’s findings and was just acting to protect Canadian jobs.

Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t properly get to the all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

Angus, who serves as his party’s ethics critic, said Dion should be allowed to testify because that’s part of his job, adding it would be “extraordinary” for the Liberals to refuse to hear from him.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” he said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble.

“His disregard for the findings of guilt are equally troublesome,” he said. “I think he needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Angus said he thinks it is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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