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Charest walks back from workplace language promise on Quebec campaign trail

Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest responds to questions at a news conference while campaigning Aug. 27, 2012 in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jean Charest insists he is not looking for a language fight.

The Liberal Leader stepped away from a controversial promise he made on Monday to try to expand use of French as the workplace language in federal institutions and federally regulated businesses in Quebec.

Mr. Charest said Tuesday he only wants to work with Ottawa to make sure the use of French is promoted in Quebec and Canada.

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"I think [federal institutions] should reflect the priority we have on speaking both languages," Mr. Charest said after touring a heavy equipment factory in the Beauce region of Quebec.

"There is a whole framework of legislation and support in the The Official Languages Act."

One day earlier, Mr. Charest was asked if he would promise "to consider applying Bill 101 to federal organizations and businesses running under a federal charter."

Mr. Charest replied that it was a discussion he was ready to have with the federal government.

Mr. Charest was roundly criticized in Quebec's anglophone community, which is already flirting with switching allegiances to the Coalition Avenir Québec, if recent polls and endorsements by English rights activists are any indication. French is the only official language under provincial law and many English-speaking Quebeckers are extremely sensitive to any erosion to their access to English education and jobs.

"I'm not seeking to open a can of worms, we don't have [expanding Bill 101] on our program, but I do have a view on language that is very positive and very forward-looking," Mr. Charest said.

"The country should look at language in a positive way… It is a source of enrichment in our lives, and we should see it that way."

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