What do Quebec Premier François Legault and California Gov. Gavin Newsom have in common?
Well, they are both Catholic, the premier pointed out Wednesday, in an exchange that grew a tad awkward as Legault tried to make small talk about religion and religious symbols.
"All French Canadians are," Legault told Newsom in Sacramento, Calif., as the pair posed for photos after shaking hands.
Legault met Newsom as part of his four-day tour of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Photographers and reporters recorded their exchange as Legault initiated a bit of small talk.
The premier first asked Newsom if he speaks French. After the governor said he did not, Legault asked, "You're a Catholic, no?"
"Yep," Newsom said, to which Legault replied, "Me too. Of course, all French Canadians are."
According to the 2011 census, nearly 75 per cent of Quebec residents identify as Catholic. However, churches continue to close across the province. For example, more than 30 of 54 Catholic churches near Montreal were slated for closure in a 2018 report by the Diocese of St-Jérôme.
Legault then asked about Newsom's Irish heritage, which the governor acknowledged, adding "with all the good and bad that comes with that."
"We've got a lot of history, us Irish Catholics," the governor said.
"I understand," Legault said, as the two prepared to walk away from the cameras. "We can talk about religious signs."
To that, Newsom raised his hands and said with a laugh, "No, that's a whole — an issue for you guys: I don't want to get into that."
Newsom appeared aware of the widespread controversy surrounding Quebec government's decision to bar public teachers, police officers and government lawyers, among other civil servants, from wearing any religious symbols — such as a Muslim hijab or Sikh turban — while at work.
On Thursday, Quebec's Court of Appeal will decide whether to suspend the law, widely referred to as Bill 21 or the Laicity Act.
The legislation, which invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause in an effort to get around court challenges, has been widely condemned by human rights advocates and by political leaders elsewhere in the country.
Some hijab-wearing teachers have already moved to other provinces to find work in the classroom, and one province, Manitoba, launched an ad campaign to try to attract people who wear religious symbols to move there.