MONTREAL - A Parti Quebecois government would move quickly to strengthen the province's language laws if it wins next month's election, party leader Pauline Marois said Sunday.
The PQ would crack down on English in the workplace and introduce stricter rules for who must attend French-language junior college, Marois said at a campaign stop in Montreal.
Marois said the province's landmark language law, Bill 101, must be updated to stop the decline of French in the province, in particular in Montreal shops and businesses.
The PQ leader, who criticized the Liberal government for failing to do enough to protect the French language, said she would introduce new legislation within 100 days of taking power that would close a loophole that allows companies to operate in English.
"I think we need to look over all of this, to see if there are gaps or corrections that need to be made," Marois said.
Recent polls have placed the PQ ahead of the Charest Liberals and the new Coalition for Quebec's Future in the election scheduled for Sept. 4.
The PQ's overhaul of Bill 101 would extend language rules to businesses with between 11 and 50 employees, making French the mandatory language in the workplace, Marois said.
Immigrants and francophones would also be required to attend a French-language junior college, known in Quebec as Cegep. At the moment, post-secondary students can choose to go to either a French or English Cegep. Those language restrictions already apply to high school and elementary school students.
Marois said the PQ would also review the rules that allow companies such as aeronautics giant Bombardier to deny employees the right to work in French.
Marois said it's normal that some tasks are performed in English when a worker is interacting with people outside Quebec, but within the province it shouldn't be the norm.
"Once (the employee) hangs up the phone, I think business in Quebec needs to happen in French," she said.
Marois has already promised to increase the number of language inspectors to monitor the presence of French on commercial signs.
The PQ also offered details Sunday of a party committee that's been meeting since February in an effort to develop a strategy for another referendum on sovereignty.
"The goal was to do as much as possible before we get to power," said Alexandre Theriault-Marois, head of the PQ's political committee.
Another meeting scheduled for this summer was cancelled due to the campaign, but will "undoubtedly be accelerated" should the PQ be elected to power, Theriault-Marois said.
The Charest Liberals, meanwhile, promised to introduce new legislation of their own.
Premier Jean Charest said a returning Liberal government would introduce legislation that would deny anyone facing "serious" criminal charges the right to bid on government contracts.
"We will ensure that public construction contracts are awarded to companies above all suspicion," he said.
If the new version of Bill 35 was in force today, companies linked to the empire of the businessman Tony Accurso — who is facing charges including fraud, breach of trust, and bribery — would be excluded from the process of awarding public contracts.
On Sunday, the Coalition for Quebec's Future also unveiled its complete election platform, a hefty document with 94 separate party pledges.
Among the new elements in the platform were major changes proposed to Montreal's municipal governance. Party leader Francois Legault said cutting down on the number of city councillors would give the city centre more decision-making power to improve problems like congestion.
The party, which promises to set aside the issue of Quebec independence, also promised to get tougher on crime.
- with files from Jocelyne Richer, Alexandre Robillard and Martin Ouellet
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.