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quebec election

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois speaks at a news conference during a campaign stop in Perce, Que., Aug. 7, 2012.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

A Parti Québécois government would adopt a tougher language law within a hundred days of taking office, party leader Pauline Marois says.

Changes to the current language law, Bill 101, are needed if Quebec is to ensure that French remains the dominant language in the province, especially on the Island of Montreal, Ms. Marois said.

The PQ leader expressed concerns that the English language was becoming increasingly present as the preferred language of communication in Montreal. According to Ms. Marois, data collected by the Office québécois de langue française, the government agency that oversees the enforcement of the language law, showed that between 2010 and 2012 the number of merchants in Montreal who welcomed their customers in French has dropped had dropped from 89 per cent to 74 per cent.

Ms. Marois said the decline of the French in Montreal signals the need for a tougher language law.

"The message has to be clear: in Quebec we live in French, we work in French, we communicate in French," Ms. Marois said during a campaign stop in Montreal on Sunday.

The new Bill would increase the powers of the language agency. A "few million dollars" more would go to hiring more staff to enforce the law. Moreover provisions in the law regarding the use of French in the workplace would be extended to the smaller companies, those that employ between 11 and 50 employees. This would affect 54,000 businesses, mostly retailers who would be closely monitored to ensure they speak French to their clients. "That is how things should be done in Quebec," Ms. Marois said.

Under the proposed Bill, francophone students and those from immigrant families who must attend French language schools will be required to enroll in French language post-secondary colleges known as Cegeps. Under the existing law, post-secondary students can freely choose the language of education of their choice after graduating from high school. The same restrictions would apply to vocational schools and adult education. In Quebec students must complete a two-year program in a Cegep if they wish to attend university.

"Currently half of the enrollments in English language colleges are students whose mother tongue is one other than English. Of all the students whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, half choose English language colleges. This situation has to be remedied," Ms. Marois said.

A PQ government would also abolish bridging schools which allow for those who have the financial means to circumvent the law and send their children to a private English-language elementary school for a few years in order to become eligible to attend a publicly funded English language school.

Under Bill 101 only those children of parents who studied in English in Quebec or in the rest of Canada are allowed to attend an English language elementary or secondary school in Quebec. And if a child attends an English language establishment anywhere in Canada, that student and all of his or her siblings are then allowed to pursue their education in English. Ms. Marois said those who have been allowed to circumvent the law following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling must be stopped.

"This situation is intolerable. We will abolish bridging schools," she said. The PQ would invoke the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Constitution to override the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in order to abolish the bridging schools.

Further measures would seek to improve French language training for new immigrants as well as changes to improve the teaching of English as a second language.

Most of what Ms. Marois is proposing to do was recommended in an extensive study completed in 1996 on the status of the French language in Quebec. The report warned against the increasing use of English in Montreal and its impact on the French language in Quebec.

However, the recommendations were viewed to be too drastic by then PQ premier Lucien Bouchard and his advisor Jean-François Lisée. The report was watered-down and the recommendations never implemented.

Ms. Marois insisted none of the proposed measures would undermine the rights of the province's English-language minority.

"We will be respectful of their rights. If the other provinces in Canada would do the same with regards to their francophone minorities, francophone [rights] would take a giant step forward," the PQ leader said.