Justin Trudeau has pressed one of the hottest issue buttons in Quebec, saying there's no need to toughen the province's language laws.
During a visit to Quebec City, the Liberal leadership candidate was asked by reporters about plans by the new Parti Quebecois provincial government to create a new Bill 101. The government calls the matter urgent, following census data that suggests a decline in francophones' demographic weight.
Trudeau's response: the PQ's language policy is unnecessary and counter-productive.
His remarks come as a new poll suggested a Trudeau-led Liberal resurgence in Quebec, a province the party once dominated under his father.
His opinion on language also echoes the position of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who brought official bilingualism to Canada and criticized the French-only policies of the PQ.
The younger Trudeau says adding teeth to Quebec's Charter of the French Language risks reigniting old battles.
The Parti Québécois said Mr. Trudeau's comments showed his lack of understanding of the language issue in Québec. According to the Minister responsible for Montreal Jean-François Lisée statistics prove that Bill 101 has in way impeded francophones ability in Quebec to learn English.
"The majority of citizens in Quebec are bilingual. We are the most bilingual society in North America and that is great," Mr. Lisée. The objective of Bill 101, he added, was to ensure the preservation of the French language on the continent. However the proportion of francophones on the island of Montreal has been in constant decline for decades, a situation that has raised serious concerns for the PQ government.
"I'm asking him (Mr. Trudeau) and others who fail to see that there is a problem: when will it be a problem, when we are 40-per cent, 30-per cent, 20–per cent," Mr. Lisée asked.
The PQ government has promised to revamp the province's language law to include tougher measures to ensure that French becomes the common language of communication in the workplace. The government was also examining whether to extend language restrictions to daycare centres and community colleges.
The PQ argued that results from the 2011 census with respect to language which were released on Wednesday was further proof that the decline in the number of francophones in Montreal required strong government intervention to reverse the trend.
But Mr. Trudeau isn't alarmed by new figures suggesting a relative decline of French in Canada and on the island of Montreal, saying these are the result of demographics and a lower birthrate.
He says hardening the language law would only punish francophones who want their children to be familiar with English, which he described as the international language of business.
Trudeau, a Montreal-area MP, made the remarks as he made a swing through Quebec City to promote his candidacy.
He arrived as a new CROP poll published by Montreal La Presse indicated he could lead his party past the NDP in popular support in the province.
A Justin Trudeau-led federal Liberal party got the support of 36 per cent of the 1,000 respondents between Oct. 17 to 22.
The NDP, which now holds most of Quebec's seats, clocks in at 30 per cent, followed by the Bloc Quebecois at 19 per cent, the Conservatives at 11 per cent and the Greens at three per cent.
- With files from The Globe and Mail's Rhéal Séguin in Drummondville, Que.