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Prince Edward Island

Tories, Bloc push for Quebec language law to rule federal businesses

The bloc and Conservatives have made it clear they stand with the Quebec government as the parliamentary committee considers Bill C-13

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OTTAWA — Repeated attempts by the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois in the committee on Tuesday to include elements of Quebec’s new French language charter in the modernization of the federal official language law have met fierce opposition from federal Liberals.

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The inquiry into C-13 in the parliamentary committee is still in its early stages, and the bloc and Conservatives have made it clear that they side with the Quebec government. They want Quebec businesses, including state-regulated businesses, to comply with the provincial charter, which restricts the right of Quebec’s Anglophones to work and be served in English.

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More than once at Tuesday’s meeting, the Bloc and Tories introduced amendments that would result in Quebec’s new language charter – formerly known as “Bill 96” – taking precedence over federal jurisdiction, but they were overruled by the Liberals with the help of the lone NDP defeats MP in committee.

“We have the right to ensure the survival of French and its growth,” argued Bloc MP Mario Beaulieu.

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Liberal MP Anthony Housefat said he understood why the nationalist-separatist bloc would push for such changes, but expressed surprise that the Conservatives sided with the Separatist party as historically that had never been their position.

“The Conservative Party, including in Charlottetown with Brian Mulroney, sought to incorporate into the Constitution of Canada the federal government’s obligation to protect the vitality and development of both linguistic minority communities,” he said.

“So the introduction of the French language charter into this bill essentially means that we are okay with only some English-speaking Quebecers being served in English, only those who have access to English schools,” Housefather added.

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“It agrees to use the disregard clause preemptively.”

Conservative MP Bernard Généreux said talks were underway between the federal government and Quebec and said he would “trust” both levels of government to “work hand-in-hand” to stem the decline of French in Quebec and across the country to stop.

Bill C-13 establishes, among other things, the right to have a “strong Francophone presence” in state-regulated businesses such as banks, airlines and railroads in Quebec and at a later date in other regions across Canada.

Quebec’s new charter goes further, forcing companies with more than 25 employees to ensure that French is the common language in the workplace. Previous legislation ensured that only companies with 50 or more employees had to comply.

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But the bloc has said C-13s would be counterproductive as state-regulated jobs would be able to sidestep Quebec’s new obligations by choosing to work in one of Canada’s official languages.

The Liberals even warned against introducing the term French as a “common language” in Quebec, which they say could potentially have legal ramifications in the future. Beaulieu replied that he really didn’t see what the problem with that choice of words was.

In a rare move, the committee’s chairman, Liberal MP René Arseneault, chimed in to say he doesn’t see English as the “common language” in his francophone community of New Brunswick, even though the province is officially bilingual .

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Housefather then ended the meeting with an impassioned speech about why he opposes any attempt to introduce references to Quebec law when it is “almost entirely opposed by the province’s linguistic minority.”

“Would we do this if … Manitoba’s francophone community were totally opposed to provincial law? Would we be willing to introduce this concept into federal law knowing that the entire minority community opposes it?”

Housefather also said the federal government cannot shirk its responsibilities by applying a statute of a provincial legislature, and especially when it involves preemptive use of the disregard clause, a practice the Liberal government says it wants to challenge.

The Official Languages ​​Committee has six more meetings to consider nearly 200 amendments to Bill C-13.

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