It's bad enough when politicians contribute to public cynicism about themselves by not keeping their promises. It's even worse when they make promises they know they won't be able to keep.
In promising that a Parti Québécois government would bring in a radical new Bill 101, PQ leader Pauline Marois is duping the members of her own party in particular.
That's because with her considerable experience in government, Marois should know that as pleasing as her proposed new language restrictions might sound to Péquiste ears, they are unworkable.
Marois would subject all Quebec businesses, not only those with at least 50 employees, to some form of "francization."
Even a business with only one employee would have to use French to some unspecified extent in its operations, depending upon the number of employees and their "direct relations" with consumers.
Marois proposes to use incentives such as tax credits at first to persuade the smaller businesses to use French. But, she said on the weekend, her new law "will have teeth," and "we won't hesitate to impose fines, if things don't change."
By subjecting firms with fewer than 50 employees to some form of francization, Marois would go where no previous PQ government has dared to go since the first one adopted the original French Language Charter in 1977.
Even PQ governments of which Marois was a member realized it would be too costly for smaller businesses to comply with the requirements, and too difficult for the government to enforce them.
According to the most recent annual report of the Office québécois de la langue française, in 2006-07 there were 5,640 businesses with 50 or more employees that were subject to the francization requirements. And even nearly 30 years after the introduction of the requirements, nearly 20 per cent of these larger firms were not yet in full compliance.
The OQLF estimates there are at least 175,000 businesses in Quebec with fewer than 50 employees - of which at least 150,000 have fewer than 10.
So Marois would multiply the number of private businesses subjected to some form of francization by more than 30 times. If the OQLF's francization and complaints branch expanded to keep pace with its increased workload and ensure compliance, its staff would grow from about 100 in 2007 to more than 3,000. And its budget would swell by more than a quarter billion dollars.
And that's not all. In addition to the francization requirements, "every employer" that requires the knowledge of a language other than French for a job would have to "demonstrate" its necessity.
Marois hasn't said where she'd get the money to pay for this, or for the French courses that she would make "available and compulsory" for all "newcomers" (not immigrants) to Quebec. And that's only one of the questions about her new language policy that she has yet to address.
She would also make French the language of relations between the government and individuals as well as businesses.
Marois has already become the first PQ leader to propose to punish individuals explicitly for not speaking French, by denying newcomers who don't the right to seek electionm even to an English school board. Would she also deny government services in English to those who need them?
Or would she deny them only to non-anglophones? If so, how would a civil servant know whether an individual is entitled to be served in English? Marois hasn't said.
It's probably not a coincidence that Marois promised her new Bill 101 at a rally for her party's candidates in three by-elections to be held May 12. Having indefinitely shelved sovereignty, she is left with only language with which to mobilize PQ supporters.
If anything, Marois's proposals demonstrate that the practical limits of language legislation have already been reached. But that's something PQ members don't want to hear. So instead, Marois raises expectations she can't fulfill. And it's mainly her own followers that are being played for suckers.
Marois is making promises she knows she can't keep
PQ is playing party supporters for suckers by promising to expand the reach of Bill 101