Liberal Premier Jean Charest and Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois have a couple of things in common.
Both are facing important policy meetings of their respective parties, on successive weekends in March. And this week, questions of language and identity emerged as potentially divisive issues at both meetings, pitting the leaders against part of their memberships.
The difference is that while Marois's problem might be to hold back her party from going farther than she wants, Charest's might be to bring it along as far as he wants to go.
Marois is resisting another expected attempt by PQ language hawks to extend to CEGEPs the restrictions on admission to English primary and secondary schools when the party holds a mini-convention to adopt its platform for the next election.
As for Charest, he originally wanted the Liberal policy convention to restore some of the nationalist credibility his party has lost and make it competitive again in French Quebec, where it was reduced to third-party status in last year's election.
To that end, the party created three task forces last summer to draft policy proposals for debate and adoption at the convention, the most politically important of which was on identity.
Along with the other task forces, the one on identity presented a preliminary report to the party's general council in September.
It unabashedly referred to Quebec as a "francophone nation" that must be recognized in the Canadian constitution, along with its "duty to protect and promote the French fact" not only in this province but across Canada as well. It called for "concrete follow-up" to Parliament's 2006 vote recognizing "the Québécois" as a nation.
And it said immigrants must be required to have a better knowledge of French before arriving here and have a responsibility to adhere to common Quebec values such as secularity and to "integrate the civic culture of the host society." But the unconditional federalists and minorities who dominated the September meeting in Montreal were overwhelmingly critical of the report, saying it was not federalist enough and divided Quebecers between "us" and "them." After further consultations with party members, some of the task force's proposals were watered down in its final report, made public this week.
Instead of a Quebec "nation," it calls for constitutional recognition of this province's "uniqueness" in English and "specificity" in French. The duty to protect and promote French and the follow-up on recognition of a Québécois nation are not mentioned in the general framework resolution to be proposed at the convention (available in English at www.plq.org/ congres/en/).
Neither are the "responsibilities" of immigrants to adopt Quebec values, though newcomers would still have to sign a "knowledge declaration" aimed at giving them a "better knowledge" of those values.
But at the same time, some new proposals introduced in the task force's final report might be too much for some delegates to the convention.
There would be no changes to the language legislation itself. But more "francization counsellors" would be hired to "educate" business owners about their legal obligations under the language legislation and there would be a "significant increase" in fines for non-compliance after a warning.
And the task force proposes that Quebec be given a veto over decisions of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission "exclusively pertaining to the Quebec territory." This means Quebec could stop new English-language radio or television stations from going on the air or even force existing ones to shut down when their broadcasting licences come up for renewal.
Two of its language proposals contradict each other. On the one hand, it says the government must "defend the integrity of our linguistic laws before the courts." On the other, it calls for the restoration of the federal court challenges program for linguistic minorities - which could provide funding for more challenges to the language laws by lawyer Brent Tyler and others.
Charest and Marois must both face their language hard-liners
Charest wants party to boost nationalism, while Marois fights with anti-anglo crowd