A Parti Québécois government would introduce new limits on the legal use of the English language and on religious expression in some public places, PQ leader Pauline Marois vowed Tuesday during a campaign stop in Percé on the Gaspé peninsula.
Marois said if elected, her government would pass a new, tougher version of Quebec's language law, Bill 101, within a year.
"We have abandoned the defence of our language," she told reporters, saying the use of the French language is on the decline, particularly in Montreal.
She said in some restaurants and small service outlets, for example, "it is very hard to be served in French."
"It's why for me it's important to adopt a new Bill 101," Marois said. "Our identity is so important. We are French people in North America. We are a small minority. If we don't wage this battle, we could lose this identity."
The law would apply the existing requirement that the French language be used in the workplace, to apply to small businesses with as few as 11 employees.
Small businesses are currently exempt from Bill 101's provisions on French in the workplace.
A PQ government would also prevent most francophone and so-called "allophones" — Quebecers whose mother tongue is neither French nor English — from attending English language CÉGEPs.
That means only students who now have a certificate of eligibility allowing them to attend grade school in English would be allowed to continue their post-secondary studies at an English-language college.
PQ would enshrine secularism
Marois has also promised to create a new charter of secularism, to enshrine in law the religious neutrality of the state.
She said the charter would make explicit the equality of men and women and other fundamental principles, to clarify what is acceptable behaviour in Quebec and what is not.
"When someone arrives in Quebec, he will know what kind of society he'll be living in — a society based on equality, a society where the state is neutral, a society that will respect people's choices in their private lives," Marois said.
She said a PQ government would prohibit religious symbols and overt expressions of faith in some public spheres.
Key Quebec Election Issues
As Quebec begins a provincial election campaign, with a vote scheduled for Sept. 4, here are some key issues and the stated positions, so far, of the three largest parties: the Liberals, the Parti Quebecois and the Coalition for Quebec's Future.<br><br><em>With files from CP</em>
Liberals say their $254-a-year, seven-year tuition increases will improve universities while expanded loans and bursaries programs will actually leave the poorest students better off. Liberals have mostly refused to budge in face of protests, although their original proposal was for $325-a-year increases over five years. Their controversial Bill 78 would reopen classes in mid-August for one-third of students still on strike, while setting out severe fines for anyone blocking schools.<br><br>PQ has been more supportive of protesters and would cancel the hikes, propose smaller increases pegged to inflation and hold provincial summit on university funding.<br><br>The Coalition has positioned itself to occupy the middle ground, proposing more modest annual tuition increases of $200 a year over five years. Party originally voted for Bill 78 but now says it created unnecessary tension and wants some provisions suspended.
After two years of intense pressure, Charest Liberals called a corruption inquiry that is now probing malfeasance in construction industry and its ties to political parties and organized crime. Before that, they had announced plans to hire more oversight officials at Transport Department; tougher fines for engineering firms; stricter political fundraising laws; new rules for public-works tendering; and new anti-corruption squad that has since made numerous arrests.<br><br>PQ making ethics central plank of platform. It wants tougher legislation preventing companies guilty of tax evasion from winning public contracts. It also proposes new measures to combat voter cynicism including: citizen-initiated referendums, fixed election dates, political donations limited to $100 a year, and the right to vote at age 16.<br><br>The Coalition wants new integrity commissioner to oversee government contracts, and new powers for prosecutors, as part of a "big cleanup." It also promises fixed election dates.
Liberals will tout Plan Nord, a sweeping plan that sets out $80 billion in public and private investments in mining, energy, infrastructure and conservation projects over a quarter-century.<br><br>PQ accuses Liberals of selling off Quebec's natural wealth at cut-rate prices and is calling for a 30 per cent surtax on profits from non-renewable resources.<br><br>The Coalition has also taken aim at the signature plan, alleging windfall will primarily benefit foreign companies and Quebec mining firms cosy with Liberals.
Liberals have long stood as the major federalist option in Quebec. Party is frequently accused by opponents of being subservient to Ottawa. However, it has clashed publicly with federal government over issues like long-gun registry, omnibus crime bill and changes to health transfers.<br><br>PQ is offering no timetable for third referendum on independence. Instead, party plans to pick fights with Ottawa in seeking more power over immigration, environment, agriculture and revenue collection. PQ hopes such battles will generate support for independence. Eventually, Quebecers themselves could initiate referendum, under plan to allow California-style plebiscites. People would need to collect 850,000 signatures to hold provincial vote on a given topic.<br><br>The Coalition, led by former PQ minister Francois Legault, vows to shelve any referendum on independence for 10 years to focus on building economy. But many federalists remain wary of the once-passionate sovereigntist.