MONTREAL - Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is promising to crackdown on what her party calls the erosion of French language in Montreal, a move she says will serve to preserve a relative linguistic peace in the province.
"Some people are angry now because they can see there is an erosion of French . . . and if we don't stop that . . . we could break the linguistic peace," Marois told a news conference Sunday to cap a two-day national council meeting.
The Opposition leader lay the blame for the anger at the doorstep of the Liberals and Premier Jean Charest, who Marois blamed for inaction when it comes to questions of language and culture.
"Inertia and inaction also produces opposition, objections and social problems," Marois told reporters.
"Right now I think Mr. Charest is sending a very bad message to Quebecers."
Language Minister Christine St-Pierre was quick to dismiss Marois' comments as "demagogic."
St-Pierre said the government is very pro-active in promoting French and will continue to do so. She noted in a telephone interview that the Liberals had increased funding allocated to Quebec's French language watchdog office and courses for immigrants.
In a fiery speech to about 500 party members, Marois also slammed the Supreme Court of Canada for striking down Bill 104, which the government had introduced to close a loophole in the language charter that allowed students access to English-language education after a short stint in a private school.
The Supreme Court of Canada has given Quebec one year to come up with an acceptable compromise to the law, which was originally struck down by the provincial appeals court two years ago.
Marois told party members that the decision of the highest court in the land, referring to it as "another nation's court," was outrageous and served to undermine Quebec and its protection of the French language.
And Marois promised to renew and reinforce Bill 101, the province's language charter, if the separatist party ever returned to power.
Adopted 32 years ago, the bill made French the language of the majority and help to craft language rights for everyone in the province. Marois said the legislation which stirred controversy initially, is now a source of pride.
Marois said repeatedly that it might be time to beef up the legislation, all while respecting the rights of the English-speaking minority.
"We want to work in French and go to school in French in the respect of Anglo Quebecois minority," Marois said.
Party members from across the province spent the weekend debating issues related to language, immigration and identity - but fell short on firm policy announcements or which way party brass was leaning.
Montreal is ground zero for the PQ language battle, where members lamented during the weekend that the use of French is in decline.
"More and more, we see businesses operating in English, businesses asking candidates to be bilingual," Marois said.
"The objective is to stop this erosion of French and allow French to take its rightful place."
Among the proposed solutions include amending the laws requiring non-Anglophones to attend French-language colleges and obliging children of immigrants to attend daycare in French.
"We will study these in depth," Marois said.
"It wasn't a matter of accepting or rejecting proposals today."
Marois said the idea was to debate the issues with an eye on crafting a new party platform in early 2011, and the party leadership made it clear that the defence of the French language and culture will be key.
-with files from Jocelyne Richer in Montreal.