New Parti Québécois minority government in Quebec may mean tighter language regulations for business

Premier-designate and Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Pauline Marois has an opportunity to act aggressively in the early stages of her mandate after being elected to head a minority government in Quebec’s September 4th provincial election. Marois plans to take full advantage of a Liberal opposition weakened by former leader Jean Charest’s resignation.

Making the French language a priority, the PQ government is planning to introduce legislation in the fall session to make controversial changes to the Charter of the French language, known as Bill 101. The PQ plans to enforce French as the sole official language of Quebec and reinforce the use of French in the workplace and retail businesses.

The PQ plans to expand the French language requirements (referred to as “francization”) that currently apply to businesses with more than 49 employees to businesses with 11 to 49 employees. The purpose of “francization” is to implement a variety of linguistic measures aimed a generalizing the use of French in the workplace. The PQ also plans to regulate small businesses to ensure they offer services in French. In order to achieve these goals, the PQ intends to reinforce the powers and funding for the regulator, the Office québécois de la langue française, to give it greater powers of investigation, more inspectors, and more authority to sanction non-compliant businesses. 

Marois has also promised to stop outside interests from taking over Quebec companies in order to ensure that their head offices remain in the province and to scrap a $200 health tax on individual workers.

Marois has said she would move quickly to introduce legislation to bar any company with a criminal record from obtaining government contracts, which is aimed at several construction firms that allegedly received preferential treatment under the Liberals.

Marois has stated that she plans to demand new powers from the Federal Government. A cabinet will be sworn in within the next two weeks, and commentators expect that Marois will confront Prime Minister Stephen Harper on several issues including control over employment insurance, the enforcement of Bill 101 in federally-regulated companies/institutions and full jurisdiction over cultural and communications policies.

The PQ traditionally has support from the labour movement, but unlike most other social-democratic parties, its ties with the labour movement are informal.

The PQ plans to team up with the third-place party Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) on specific issues, but the CAQ has said it would oppose strengthening language laws. CAQ leader and co-founder François Legault, a former cabinet minister in previous PQ governments, has said, however, that he would co-operate with the PQ on issues such as the fight against corruption. He rejects the PQ’s plan to stop all government employees from wearing visible religious symbols but would consider such a ban for judges and police officers.