August 28, 2012 10:51 am
Updated: March 28, 2014 1:12 pm

Charest says he’ll hold off on extending Bill 101

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SAINTE-JUSTINE – Re-opening the Charter of the French Language Charter so it can be extended to federal institutions is not on the immediate agenda, Liberal leader Jean Charest said Tuesday.

One day after igniting a controversy with comments suggesting he wants to negotiate such a change with the federal government, Charest appeared to backtrack.

“Are we proposing to re-open Bill 101, the answer is No,” Charest said at a campaign news conference.

“But we do want to work with all those who are concerned by our language so we are able to promote it, to use it and to allow it to have as much importance as it has in our lives.”

Asked why he would be raising this issue in this campaign and with the clock ticking towards election day, Charest said, “I didn’t invite the question, in fairness. The question was asked and I shared my views.

“You ask the questions and I give you the answers as honestly as I can. I’m not seeking to open a can of worms. We don’t have that on our program but I do have a view on language that is very positive and very forward-looking.

“Frankly, I think if the country looked at language in a more positive light, rather then the narrow light of the conflicts, we’d be in a much better place on these issues.”

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On Monday, Charest was asked to expand on comments he had made to Le Devoir a week earlier to the effect that the charter, Bill 101, should be applied to federal institutions like banks and the public sector.

Such a change would, for example, guarantee Quebec federal workers the right to work in French just as the charter does now in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

“I am ready to have this discussion with the federal government,” Charest said Monday. “I think protecting the French language is something that goes beyond jurisdictional borders in the sense that language is language.

“It is spoken and it is equally, for us, a part of our identity. And I think we can sit down with the federal government and see how the federal government can participate in this Quebec consensus on how we want to manage our language in Quebec.”

Charest noted such a change would not require an amendment to the Canadian constitution.

The reaction was visceral – particularly in the anglophone community. Dozen of negative comments were posted on The Gazette’s website with some saying after reading what Charest had said they would vote for the Coalition Avenir Quebec, a party already said to be making inroads on the Liberal vote.

The CAQ has pledged to make no changes to Bill 101.

Former federal Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, who had been courted by the CAQ to be a candidate and came close to running, told Le Devoir Monday that she was “very disappointed,” to learn about Charest’s position.

It was giving her second thoughts about having voted for Liberal MP Pierre Arcand in the riding of Mont Royal in the advance polls.

“With this statement by Mr. Charest, I think anglophones have still more reasons to look at the coalition as a valid option,” Jennings said.

Jennings was the Liberal MP who fought the Bloc Quebecois’ two attempts to convince the Harper government to apply the charter.

The Bloc tabled two bills designed to do that. The New Democratic Party has followed suit and would like to do the same thing. The federal Conservative government has blocked all attempts.

By the time Charest stepped up to the microphone after visiting a plant in Bellechasse which makes industrial hydrolic grapplers, the question came back to haunt him.

Asked what he would want to discuss with the federal government if such talks were to take place, Charest said it would be to explore what can be done “to reinforce the French language and culture, not only in Quebec but all of Canada.”

“I don’t believe in a narrow conflict on language. I believe in the very positive and the very important dimension it brings to our lives.

“Ask anyone who speaks both languages or two languages. It’s another window on the world and there’s not a moment where I would want to be deprived from the fact that in my life I had the opportunity to have access to two languages.”

Charest was then asked if federal work places should become francophone work places.

“I think they should reflect the priority we have on speaking both languages,” he said. “There’s a a whole framework of legislation and policies that supports that, through the Official Languages Act

“But I also believe Canada needs to look at the issue of language more positively, with a different outlook, not as something that separates or divides us but as being what it is: a source of enrichment in our lives that makes us a better society and a better place to live.

“That’s what I believe. That’s what I’m very proud of when I travel as a Quebecer and a Canadian outside of Quebec. That’s what people see in us. Why can’t we see this in ourselves.”
 

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