Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette tables a legislation on laicity of the state, Thursday, March 28, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Premier Francois Legault, right, looks on.
Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Premier François Legault has urged two of his top cabinet ministers to kiss and make up after a policy spat between them made headlines.“My job as a leader is to make sure that everybody loves everybody among my ministers,” Legault said tongue in cheek Saturday. “To be sure, this morning I asked Sonia and Simon to kiss each other in front of everybody, not on the mouth, but to kiss each other.“I can re-assure you we love each other including Simon and Sonia.”Arriving in a downtown Montreal hotel for a first general council meeting of his Coalition Avenir Québec party since the 2018 election, Legault was asked by reporters to comment on two columns describing friction between Justice Minister Sonia LeBel and Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.At the heart of the dispute is a recently signed agreement between Quebec and the federal government giving the province a bigger say in the selection of future Quebec judges on the Supreme Court.While LeBel, who negotiated the deal and is considered a pragmatic, made a big deal out of the agreement, describing it as historic, Jolin-Barrette, among the most nationalistic members of the Legault cabinet, believes it did not go far enough, Radio-Canada reported Saturday.In his column Saturday, Journal de Montreal columnist Antoine Robitaille says the two have effectively divorced.Quebec has long sought a greater say in the process. The defunct 1987 Meech Lake constitutional accord would have entrenched Quebec’s right to pick three judges at the top court in the constitution.The new agreement does not go that far. Under LeBel’s deal Quebec would pick two of the eight persons on a committee which will recommend a list of three to five candidates in Ottawa.When in opposition, Jolin-Barrette presented his own proposed legislation on the subject, Bill 591, which recycled the language of the Meech agreement. It was never adopted.But there are other indicators of tension. LeBel for example has carefully avoided answering any questions about the legality of Jolin-Barrette’s controversial Bill 21 dealing with secularism.During legislative committee hearings, Québec solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti started to reveal the split by asking LeBel what her view of the bill were. She refused to answer.The Liberals picked up on her silence. In question period May 16, Liberal critic Marc Tanguay made sport of the situation, saying he wants to file a missing person’s report for LeBel.Last week, three lawyers working for the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement expressing concerns about Bill 21.Arriving for the CAQ council, however, both LeBel and Jolin-Barrette quickly downplayed the stories.“Things are going very well with Simon Jolin-Barrette,” LeBel told reporters. “We are working as a team. I am in favour of moving Quebec forward even if it is by small steps.“We can always do more. I think we are both on the same wavelength, that is to move Quebec forward.”LeBel, however, continue to stay silent on Bill 21, arguing as justice minister it is not appropriate for her to discuss the legalities of the bill or the fact it overrides fundamental rights using the constitution’s notwithstanding clause.“I have always supported the objectives of Bill 21,” LeBel said. “Now if you ask me to talk about legalities I will not. Do not read in my absence of comments the idea that I am against, do not read in my absence of comments the idea I am for.”Jolin-Barrette said there is no problem with LeBel.“We mutually support each other in our work and I am very happy and proud to work with her,” Jolin-Barrette told reporters later. “We are working together. All the ministers in the government of Quebec are working in the same direction.”He downplayed LeBel’s refusal to talk about Bill 21 saying it is normal that he, as the minister responsible for the bill, take the questions.The CAQ’s council, which is focused on shoring up the government’s image on the environmental front, lasts all firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter.com/philipauthier