The Parti Québécois wants to establish a "Quebec citizenship" that would require all immigrants to have an "appropriate knowledge" of French to be sworn in as Quebec citizens.
Those who fail to meet the language test would be barred from running for public office, funding political parties or addressing petitions to the National Assembly.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois says the Quebec identity act will enable the Quebec nation to express its historical heritage and its fundamental values fully.
"This is a sort of Bill 101 of our identity that allows us to go in the right direction," Ms. Marois said, referring to the controversial charter that recognizes French as the province's only official language.
The bill also proposes to crack down on small companies that refuse to abide by the French-language charter. Under the current law, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not obliged to meet French-language requirements in the workplace. The bill would extend the French obligation to all companies with 25 employees or more.
Furthermore, companies with 50 or more employees that fail to meet the French-language requirements after 10 years could face stiff fines and be cut off from government grants and contracts.
Ms. Marois's private member's bill will not likely obtain the support of the governing Liberals or the Action Démocratique du Québec, which forms the Official Opposition. However, it allows the PQ, in a minority-government situation, to take initiative in the emotionally charged debate over Quebec's identity and set the requirements for immigrants to become Quebec citizens under a PQ government.
A commission set up last spring by Premier Jean Charest, headed by prominent Quebec intellectuals Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, is holding public hearings on the reasonable accommodation of ethnic groups, especially religious minorities. The forums have become a weekly display of both social tolerance and racial tension.
The proposed citizenship requirements were crafted with the commission hearings in mind, and the PQ is proposing they be included in a Quebec constitution that would define the "fundamental values of the Quebec nation." These would include the equality of men and women, the separation of state and religion, and the protection and promotion of Quebec culture, which would ensure the predominance of the French language.
Alberta and British Columbia have also adopted provincial constitutions.
Under the proposed Quebec identity bill, immigrants would be required to pledge to be "loyal to the people of Quebec" and fulfill their duties in compliance with the Quebec constitution. A person found to obtain citizenship under fraud or false pretences would cease to be a Quebec citizen.
Immigrants would also need to have held Canadian citizenship for at least three months, reside in the province for six months and have appropriate knowledge of Quebec.
Ms. Marois said that 40 per cent of new arrivals to Quebec have no knowledge of French and should have help to learn it at the government's expense. She insisted the changes would comply with the Canadian Constitution.
"We are not opening new fronts in order to change or redefine the institutions. Essentially we are introducing the constitutionalization of a part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and certain articles of the French language charter," Ms. Marois said.
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