QUEBEC - Justin Trudeau has pressed one of the hottest issue buttons in Canada, saying there's no need to toughen Quebec's language laws.
During a visit to Quebec City, the Liberal leadership candidate was asked Thursday by reporters about plans by the new Parti Quebecois provincial government to toughen language laws.
The pro-independence PQ calls the matter urgent, following census data that suggests a decline in francophones' demographic weight.
Trudeau's response: the PQ language policy is unnecessary and counter-productive.
While he expressed support for the old Bill 101, pointing out that it has allowed French to thrive in Quebec and keep Canada bilingual, Trudeau said Thursday that adding teeth now to the language law risks needlessly reigniting old battles.
"I think we are revisiting old debates," Trudeau said in French.
"The majority of people in (my Montreal riding of) Papineau, in Quebec City and across Quebec are focused on their jobs, on the economy, on health care and on the education of their children, in order to participate fully in this era of globalization."
His remarks come as a new poll suggested a Trudeau-led Liberal resurgence in Quebec, a province the party once dominated under his father.
Justin Trudeau's opinion on language to a certain extent echoes the position of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who brought official bilingualism to Canada and criticized the French-only policies of the PQ.
The younger Trudeau is more supportive of past PQ language policies than his father was. However, the new PQ government has vowed to strengthen language laws, saying it needs to protect the French language and culture.
The PQ campaigned on a promise to extend the law to junior colleges and smaller businesses. It has also proposed applying it to daycare. In the wake of this week's census data, the PQ calls the matter especially urgent.
But Trudeau isn't alarmed by new figures suggesting a relative decline of French in Canada and on the island of Montreal, saying it is the result of demographics and a lower birthrate.
"My concern about reinforcing Bill 101 is that we will find it punishes Quebec francophones who want their children to develop a capacity in English, the language of international commerce," he said. "I don't think this is a good direction."
He also suggested that French is faring better than it used to in Quebec.
He pointed out that while older immigrants may speak their native language and English, their children are becoming fluent in French.
"If I speak to the parents of people from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India, yes, the parents speak English but when I speak to the children of five, 10 or 15 years old in my riding, they're speaking French and it's because Bill 101 works.
"I'm not worried. I'm proud of my beautiful French language."
The remarks earned Trudeau a scolding from the PQ government.
"I'm a bit disappointed by the lack of knowledge he shows of the basic issue," said Jean-Francois Lisee, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal.
"He's saying that Bill 101 impedes francophones' (ability) to learn (English). Well, the majority of citizens in Quebec are bilingual. We are the most bilingual society in North America and that is great. Multilingualism at the individual level is an enrichment. That's not the point of Bill 101."
Lisee said the point is ensuring that the next generation, and the one after that, will see a francophone society thriving in Quebec.
He called the latest census worrisome.
Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that 78.9 per cent of Quebec's population claimed French as their mother tongue in 2011, down from 79.6 per cent in 2006.
But that decline is largely due to immigration — and immigrants in Quebec are overwhelmingly learning French.
A newspaper columnist in Montreal La Presse used her own story to mock the limitations of the census data. She pointed out that while she lives in French, as a baby she grew up with Arabic lullabies so, according to the census data, she represents the demographic decline of French.
"Am I an allophone? A francophone? A telephone? There are days, frankly, when it all gets confusing," Rima Elkouri wrote in a column Thursday titled: Confessions Of An In-The-Closet Allophone.
"Today I don't speak, or sing, Arabic well enough to share (the same) lullabies with my children... Even if I'm an in-the-closet allophone, my life is essentially lived in French. These kinds of considerations, which reflect the pluralistic reality of a growing number of Montrealers, don't fit into any (census) category."
A number of Quebec politicians expressed alarm about the census findings.
The proportion of Quebecers who mainly speak French at home dipped slightly, to 81.2 per cent, from 81.8 per cent. In Montreal, 56.5 per cent of residents speak only French at home, 9.9 per cent just talk English and seven per cent speak only another language than English or French.
On the island of Montreal, Statistics Canada said the proportion of people who speak French at home has gone from 62.4 per cent in 2001 to 56.5 per cent in 2011.
"We see with these last Statistics Canada figures that the proportion of francophones in Montreal is declining, declining, declining. (Trudeau) says that's not a problem," Lisee said.
"So I'm asking to him, and others who don't see a problem, when will it become a problem: when we're 40 per cent? Thirty per cent? Twenty per cent?...
"We have, as elected officials in Quebec, and that means Justin Trudeau as well, we have a duty to make sure that this extraordinary experiment of a francophone society in North America endures."
Trudeau, a Montreal-area MP, made his remarks during a swing through Quebec City to promote his candidacy.
He arrived as a new CROP poll published by La Presse indicated he could lead the Liberals to a major rebound in Quebec and pass the NDP in popular support.
A Justin Trudeau-led federal Liberal party got the support of 36 per cent of the 1,000 respondents between Oct. 17 to 22 — a score not seen by Liberals in Quebec in years.
The NDP, which now holds most of Quebec's seats, clocks in at 30 percentage points, followed by the Bloc Quebecois at 19 percentage points, the Conservatives at 11 and the Greens at three per cent.
Trudeau downplayed the poll, saying there would be many more surveys until next year's leadership vote and until the next federal election around 2015.
In the next breath, however, he suggested the result is encouraging.
"This is an indication that Quebecers are open to a new kind of politics — one that engages, that listens," Trudeau said.
He added that he was determined to maintain one discourse across the country, and not tailor different messages to different regions. He suggested the NDP might be doing just that, with a nationalist message inside Quebec and a different one outside the province.
Trudeau did offer one nod to Quebec nationalists, by expressing support for the old Bill 101 that is the backbone of the province's current language policies.
The law, which has been watered down somewhat by court decisions and revised over the years, forbids immigrants and francophone children from attending English public schools; it also sets limits on the use of English on commercial signs.
Trudeau's support for the existing law stands in contrast with his father's position. The late prime minister criticized the original 1977 law and was a staunch opponent of Quebec nationalism.
"Let me say very clearly that I support Bill 101," Trudeau said Thursday.
"It is a reality that helps Quebec remain mainly French in a bilingual country. If we want Canada to remain bilingual — and I want it — we need to understand that Quebec must remain primarily francophone."
-With files by Alexander Panetta
Related on HuffPost:
14. Canada's Paris Hilton
"His resume is paper thin. He's truly the Paris Hilton. He was born into money, and a name, and that's about all he's done." - <a href="http://blogs.canoe.ca/lilleyspad/general/video-levant-and-lilley-on-trudeaumania-part-2/">Ezra Levant</a> (2:50 in video)
13. Maygan Sensenberger?
"Maybe Justin Trudeau won’t be Maygan Sensenberger to the Liberals’ Rod Zimmer. Maybe there’s a hidden depth beneath that glib exterior. Maybe he’s more mature than the MP with the Johnny Depp moustache who called the environment minister a 'piece of shit' during a heated moment in the House of Commons, and suggested that if Canada’s going to go the way of Stephen Harper 'maybe I would think about making Quebec a country.'" - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/28/kelly-mcparland-liberals-transform-themselves-into-the-lindsay-lohan-party/">Kelly McParland</a>
12. Curious Attire
"Nothing riles Liberals more than the accusation that Justin’s nothing more than an empty suit – or whatever you call his often curious attire." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/is-justin-trudeau-really-taken-seriously-by-his-own-party/article4575515/">Gerald Caplan</a>
11. Adolescent Machismo
"I found last March’s boxing match between Justin and a Conservative Senator to have been an embarrassing descent into adolescent machismo." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/is-justin-trudeau-really-taken-seriously-by-his-own-party/article4575515/">Gerald Caplan</a>
10. Delicate Princeling
<i>On a protest in Toronto against the anti-Islam film the "Innocence of Muslims."</i> "You’d have thought that if a vigorous objection would be coming from anywhere, it would be coming from the Liberal Party of Canada. It didn’t, and it is even less likely that it soon will, now that the delicate princeling Justin Trudeau has unofficially declared his odds-on-favourite candidacy for the party leadership." - <a href="http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/only+Canada+liberal+party/7304311/story.html">Terry Glavin</a>
"Justin Trudeau is a dabbler – he dabbled in teaching, dabbled in the arts, dabbled in acting, dabbled in activism. Now he’s dabbling in politics." - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/28/kelly-mcparland-liberals-transform-themselves-into-the-lindsay-lohan-party/">Kelly McParland</a>
8. Handsome Young Thing A Bad Thing?
"After running the country for most of the 20th century it’s morphing into the Lindsay Lohan of Canadian politics, constantly vowing to clean up its act, only to wake up with a headache and another charge on its rap sheet. The Liberals aren’t into drugs that I know of, but after three failed marriages, a stint in rehab and with its overall health in decline, it pledged to undertake a serious effort to re-establish itself as a mature, dependable party. Instead it’s plunging shamelessly into an affair with the handsome young thing with the dynamite hair." - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/28/kelly-mcparland-liberals-transform-themselves-into-the-lindsay-lohan-party/">Kelly McParland</a>
7. Thin Résumé, Low Bar
"Mr. Trudeau brings a thin résumé. He has youth, a storied name, decent smarts and a certain something that makes people like him. That this may be enough speaks volumes about how low the bar is set for the job of Liberal leader." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/if-trudeau-leads-will-liberals-follow/article4570953/">John Ibbitson</a>
6. That Johnny Depp Beard Again
"A high school teacher when he wore a cropped version of a Johnny Depp beard, Justin reached out to the country only once before, at his father’s funeral: voicing the most poignant of the elegies, ending his prayer with the heart-rending, 'Je t’aime, papa.' Prayers will come in handy should he be charged with rescuing the Liberals, who haven’t been the country’s Natural Governing Party since Noah launched his ark." - <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/18/trudeaus-big-leap/">Peter C. Newman</a>
5. Going The Way Of Mulroney
"Unless Justin as leader applies some harsh medicine to the remnants of the Liberal party, he will end up like Ben Mulroney, hosting entertainment shows. (Already the politician, Justin invited Ben to his wedding to glamorous CTV talk show correspondent Sophie Grégoire.)" - <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/18/trudeaus-big-leap/">Peter C. Newman</a>
4. Cowboy Campaign Slogan?
"What do you want me to be? A cowboy? I can do that! No? Something else? Name it? I was a drama teacher, so I can totally be what you need." - <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/09/26/post-approved-campaign-posters-slogans-for-justin-trudeaus-liberal-leadership-bid/">Steve Murray </a>
3. Cut From The Same Cloth
"Justin Trudeau and Justin Bieber have more in common than just a first name. Both guys are also adored by legions of love struck fans. Except in the case of Bieber the fans are teenage girls, whereas for Trudeau they are the Canadian media." - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/27/gerry-nicholls-dear-media-will-you-and-justin-get-a-room-please/">Gerry Nicholls</a>
2. The Shiny Pony Enters Horserace
"Outside the Commons Wednesday, the son of Canada's most over-rated and historically-revised PM, the Shiny Pony, as Sun News Network refers to him mockingly, had his media fan club giggling like groupies at a Justin Bieber concert." - <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/09/27/the-shiny-pony-enters-horserace">Sun News</a>
1. Eulogy Maudlin, Sappy, Contrived
"Eulogies aren’t easy, especially when they’re deeply personal. But I was among many who found his to be maudlin and sappy, contrived, almost embarrassing, the opposite of those who felt it soared to the heavens." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/is-justin-trudeau-really-taken-seriously-by-his-own-party/article4575515/">Gerald Caplan</a>
They Like Him, They Really, Really Like Him
Justin Trudeau has captured the imagination of Canada's political media. Here are the 11 most ridiculously flattering things they've said about him so far this year.
11. "He's got great hair"
<a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>
10. "The man is genuinely, immensely likable"
"Justin Trudeau does not shake your hand; he inhabits it. The wrist cocks out and up, the fingertips down; the elbow shoots off to his right; the shoulder rises slightly. Then a friendly grin dawns as he delivers a firm but not crushing grip, looking you in the eye, with a twinkle in his own. The effect is of someone who is warm, slightly embarrassed by the fuss, almost goofy, and genuinely happy to meet you. It is likely that some of this is practised; he would have spent his early social years deflecting other peoples' preconceived ideas about class and snobbery. Either way, it is effective. The man is genuinely, immensely likable." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>
9. Sisyphus & Icarus?
"Trudeau is part Sisyphus, driven by his nature and upbringing to push his political rock up the hill. And he is part Icarus, driven to prove himself in spectacular ways, whether by crossing rapids, speaking off the cuff about separatism or exposing himself to defeat and humiliation in the ring." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>
8. Or Hamlet?
"A leadership race without Justin Trudeau would be both Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and one more yawn before sleep." <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/16/rex-murphy-why-justin-trudeau-has-to-run-for-liberal-leader/" target="_hplink">- Rex Murphy</a>
"Mr. Trudeau is tantalizing, but whether he is galvanizing is another question." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/justin-trudeau-is-the-best-hope-for-liberals-and-conservatives/article4249423/" target="_hplink">- Lawrence Martin</a>
6. "He isn't an old fart"
"He isn't an old fart. The Liberal party -- like the Conservatives -- has been run by, and for, old farts for too long. The party is in desperate need of a new generation of leadership. Trudeau, like Barack Obama in 2008, has the greatest ability to mobilize young people to work for him, and vote for him."<a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink"> - Warren Kinsella</a>
5. "Expressive mane of hair"
"You, with the expressive mane of hair and the explosive pronouncements that sometimes rival the idiocy of our other Justin, the Beeb." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>
4. "His mane of black hair was tousled"
"Under his suit jacket, the sleeve buttons on his dress shirt were undone. His necktie was knotted, but left loose over an open top button. His mane of black hair was tousled. Even in genteel disarray, even dressed more or less like a couple hundred of his parliamentary colleagues, the 40-year-old Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Papineau looked like a million bucks." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>
3. "He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined"
"He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined. In Ottawa, which is Hollywood for ugly people, that matters. To win, political parties need some sizzle with their steak; Trudeau has sizzle in abundance. On the election hustings, when measured against Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair will look like Angry Old Guys, because, er, they are." <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>
2. "Impossibly handsome"
"The 41-year-old Liberal MP from the Montreal riding of Papineau, impossibly handsome, charming and much more comfortable in his skin than the bearer of such an iconic yet troublesome political name has any right to be..." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>
1. "Lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters"
"So the rail-thin, lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters, a giant-killing right hook and a weapons-grade surname will position himself as the loyal helpmate of a post-leadership-fixation Liberal Party? It's so crazy it just might work." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>