PHILIP AUTHIER - Canada's Official Languages Act should be amended to stipulate French is the official language of Quebec, which would compel federal agencies that are now exempt to conform to the province's language laws, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday.
Announcing plans to go on a language offensive in the House of Commons, Duceppe told students in a speech at the Université de Montréal that Ottawa's recent recognition of Quebec as a nation is nothing more than words because it has not been translated into concrete actions.
Quebec, he argued, should be recognized as a "francophone nation," and that starts with Ottawa recognizing Quebec's Charter of the French Language. Ottawa treats the law, Bill 101, like it does not exist and big federally chartered companies like CN, Bell Canada, Rogers and the banks are not subject to its conditions, Duceppe said.
In the meantime, Duceppe said, the use of French by private companies is stagnating, public signs are more and more bilingual and English trademarks are proliferating. For too many francophones, the language of work remains English.
He said when the House of Commons resumes sitting next week, the Bloc will propose specific amendments to the federal labour code that would make Ottawa respect Quebec's language charter, as well as an amendment to the preamble of the Official Languages Act to make it state French is the official language of Quebec.
He lumped this latest campaign in with things he said Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to do to respect his pledge to practise flexible federalism. So far Harper has made plenty of big promises to Quebec but they amount to nothing more than clever "political marketing," around election time, the Bloc leader said.
"It is just words," Duceppe said. "We want more than words. I challenge Stephen Harper today to say he is ready, yes or no, to recognize the primacy of French in Quebec. Is he ready to go from statements to acts? I am waiting for an answer and in French, please."
Taking his attack further, Duceppe invited Liberal leader Stéphane Dion to join him in his campaign, sarcastically noting it would be one way for Dion to improve his Quebec image.
"If the Canadian parties which recognized the Quebec nation are coherent, they must understand that the Quebec nation and French go hand-in-hand," Duceppe told several hundred students. "Recognizing one is recognizing the other."
Later, Duceppe denied meddling in an area of provincial jurisdiction, telling reporters Ottawa needs a wake-up call because it treats Quebec as bilingual place when it is a "francophone nation." He said he has not suddenly started to talk about language because there are rumours of an election.
Duceppe challenges Harper
Recognize 'francophone' Quebec; 'We want more than words,' he tells PM