08/24/2012 05:04 EDT | Updated 10/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Was it Something We Said, Pauline?


With the Quebec election due September 4, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois seems to be doing all she can to ensure that Jean Charest's Liberals are re-elected for a record fourth time. We all know that Quebec is sensitive on language issues. But Marois' plan to require anyone running for public office to be proficient in French should outrage everyone who believes in democracy.

It's fine to expect anyone applying for a government job in Quebec to be competent in the official language of the province. There's logic in that. But to restrict running for elected office to only French-speakers is arrogant, dictatorial and unnecessary.

Especially unnecessary. Can you imagine in any other part of Canada, someone who was unable to speak English being elected? Unlikely to inconceivable. If you can't speak the language, can't adequately communicate, how likely is it you'd be elected?

True, in the last federal election in Quebec, the NDP got a horde of MPs who were young and politically ignorant -- some of whom could barely speak French.

A lot of them didn't even campaign. Public impatience with the Bloc Quebecois directed a lot of votes to the NDP regardless of who was running and without any knowledge or contact with those on the ballot. A freak federal election.

More than likely in the next federal election, the NDP won't win 57 Quebec seats, regardless of how many of their candidate speak or don't speak French. Marois' plan to freeze out English-only speakers, or Aboriginals who aren't proficient in French, from even competing for elected office reveals a xenophobic dogmatism that's offensive. If a unilingual Urdu-speaker wants to run for office -- let him. If he can't speak the language of the majority, he'll be defeated. Can't Marois see that?

According to news reports, she would even strengthen language laws to prevent francophones from attending English-language junior colleges. This dictum reveals both insecurity and inferiority -- not in French-Canadians, but in Marois herself.

A reality of North America is that if you are unable to function in English, you are automatically at a tremendous disadvantage. Almost second-class. It would benefit every Canadian if we all were fluent in French and English. But we aren't. It's a continuing shame that English schools outside Quebec don't stress the teaching of French to a greater degree.

Right now, a Quebecois fluent in French and English has a considerable advantage over unilingual citizens. Witness Marois' bilingualism. By forcing "French only" on Quebec, people like Marois would make citizens prisoners of their culture, unable to function freely and confidently through the continent.

Fair enough for Quebec to attract French-speaking immigrants to bolster their language interests, but many of these immigrants leave the province for jobs elsewhere. And we know the agony and controversy of language laws to make French more dominant than English. That has already driven some businesses out of Quebec. Often the language police are just plain silly.

But it's the proposal that those without adequate knowledge of French be barred from standing for municipal or provincial elections that reeks of undemocratic intolerance. Jean Charest's Liberals, who have had problems with rebelling students, should win handily on September 4. If not, we'll find out soon enough if Pauline Marois language threats are real, or just rhetoric and pandering.