10/28/2012 05:44 EDT | Updated 12/28/2012 05:12 EST

Parti Quebecois Minority Government May Be In Tough Spot As Fall Session Begins

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois returns to complete her speech after being whisked off the stage by security as she delivered her victory speech in Montreal, Que., Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. With the win, Marois becomes the first female premier in Quebec history. (AP Photo/Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

MONTREAL - The newly elected Parti Quebecois government is facing a bumpy road ahead as the province's fall legislative session begins this week.

The PQ, which holds a slim minority in Quebec's legislature, wants to move forward with a political agenda that includes a controversial new language law.

But given its tenuous hold on power, with only 54 of the province's 125 seats, how much can the PQ get done? And how long will the government last?

At this point, it's unclear how ambitious the PQ will be during the fall session. Premier Pauline Marois has given conflicting signs of what can be expected, according to one political observer.

"In the lead up to the session starting, the government has done a fair bit of sabre-rattling saying it's going to push its agenda, but then the opposition reacts and they back down," said Bruce Hicks, a political scientist at Carleton University.

"I think on things that are truly important to her party's rank-and-file members she probably will feel the need to push on ahead, whereas on economic issues where she overpromised to begin with she'll use the cover of being in a minority to walk away from her more controversial propositions."

A key issue for many PQ members, Hicks said, is preserving the French language — and last week's census figures give the party more ammunition to take action.

The numbers show for example that the number of Montrealers who use only French at home has dropped seven percentage points over the last decade, to 39 per cent.

Marois has made clear that protecting the French language is at the "centre" of her concerns. She spent much of the election campaign trumpeting plans to strengthen the province's landmark language law, Bill 101.

The PQ said it would extend French language requirements to small businesses with between 10 and 50 employees, as well as restrict francophones and allophones from attending English language junior college.

Marois wouldn't commit to specifics regarding the legislation during a press briefing Friday, but stressed a new language law would be a top priority.

"We saw very worrisome statistics," Marois said, referring to the new census numbers.

"We hope to have the backing of the opposition and if that's not the case people will know who is blocking them."

Hicks said it's possible that the PQ may try to challenge opposition parties by introducing the language law as a matter of confidence.

If the PQ's minority government is defeated in the early going, the opposition parties would likely get a chance to govern, Hicks said. But the Liberals, who hold 50 seats and are in the middle of a leadership race to replace Jean Charest, may not be anxious to press for that opportunity at this stage.

Hicks predicted the PQ would drop some of its more contentious economic reforms as it tries to stay in power. The party has promised to eliminate a $200 health tax, but it hasn't won any opposition support for its planned tax hikes that would replace the lost revenue.

"They'll use the fact that they are in a minority to drop things from their platform that probably weren't that popular to begin with," Hicks said.

With the legislative session set to begin, Hicks said the PQ will look to kick things off with less controversial proposals following a gaffe-ridden start in office.

The PQ has already backtracked on files related to education, taxation, and shale-gas development.

Marois' inaugural speech from the throne on Tuesday will focus on integrity. Then she will table a bill to fight corruption.

Given the sensational testimony heard at the province's ongoing corruption inquiry, the legislation will be difficult for opposition parties to argue against.

After that, Marois said she would take "a little more time" and present legislation "one of after another."

"It will be up to the opposition to say whether or not they agree and if they have suggestions that would improve what we've put forward, or if they disagree they should say so and propose something else."

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