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French workplace law should be extended to federal businesses in Quebec, Charest says

Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest flanked by local Quebec City candidates, responds to questions at a news conference Aug. 27, 2012.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A new Liberal government would try to coax Ottawa into making French the workplace language for federal institutions and federally regulated businesses in the province, party leader Jean Charest says.

The Liberal Leader said extending Quebec's Charter of the French Language, better known as Bill 101, to federally-regulated operations would be a logical step in assuring French thrives.

"I think we can sit down and see how the federal government can participate in the Quebec consensus on how we want to deal with language in Quebec," Mr. Charest said. "The protection of language in Quebec goes beyond jurisdictions, language is language, it's spoken but it is also an important part of our identity."

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Mr. Charest's promise to pursue the extension of Bill 101 comes as he tries to pry precious francophone voters from the ranks of the Coalition Avenir Québec, which has eaten into Liberal support in Francophone suburbs of Montreal and Quebec City, where he campaigned Monday.

Bill 101 guarantees employees the right to work in French in organizations with 50 or more employees, and outlines a program of "francization" for workplaces that do not comply. It does not currently apply to federal agencies, or businesses operating under federal law in industries such as banking, transportation and telecommunications.

Extending Bill 101 is not a new idea. Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe argued for the move a few years ago but was quickly shot down by the the government of Stephen Harper.

Asked how he might convince the prime minister and Canadians outside Quebec to support the idea, Mr. Charest said the key would be to have a wider discussion about the place of French in Canada.

"When we look at these issues, we should not look at the narrow spectrum of the law, but what it does for my life and my country… what we want to accomplish together," Mr. Charest said.

Two thriving official languages represent an "enormous asset for our country… This is something that is sometimes lost on a number of Canadians," he said.

Critics of the idea (Quebec Liberal MP Stéphane Dion, for one) point out it would undermine French rights in other parts of Canada, where some already argue English should be the only language required for federal institutions. But as he often does, Mr. Charest pointed out Quebec is a special case.

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"The federal Parliament, which recognized Quebec as a nation, can put meaning behind the words," he said.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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