After a shaky start to her minority government, Premier Pauline Marois emerged from a two-day caucus meeting declaring that she will move ahead with a political agenda that includes a controversial new language law as soon as the fall session begins next week.
Ms. Marois said on Friday in a news conference that the opposition Liberals are weakened by testimony at an inquiry that has linked some former ministers to questionable fundraising practices and will not be able to challenge the Parti Québécois' agenda. She also said the PQ will negotiate with the Coalition Avenir Québec, which holds the balance of power, to get its support for language and taxation policies.
A showdown is expected this fall on the fiscal matters. The government will need the support of the opposition parties to adopt two new tax rates for higher income earners to pay for changes to the health tax that the Liberals oppose. The measures will be introduced in a budgetary update and voted on at the National Assembly. If the opposition rejects the update, the government would be defeated.
Ms. Marois appeared confident on Friday that the opposition will not risk forcing an election so early in the mandate. "I think it is preferable that we vote on this right away in order to properly prepare a budget," she said.
The government is also preparing to introduce extensive rules and regulations on the awarding of government contracts, including barring individuals and companies with criminal records from bidding.
"The bill will impose demands on companies who want to bid on contracts tendered by the government and public institutions," Ms. Marois said.
The PQ is also drafting a major overhaul of the political party financing law.
"My responsibility is to respect my promises and I will do that. I hope the opposition will help me respect these promises. … On some issues, I think we will have to act because there is an emergency to do so. And one example of this is language," Ms. Marois said.
Census data this week from Statistics Canada that indicated the number of francophones in Montreal is declining steadily has given the PQ additional arguments in favour of its language law.
The PQ has promised to extend requirements for French in the workplace to businesses with more than 10 employees and fewer than 50.
"If you look at the statistics we received this week, I think it is very important that we intervene now because French is losing ground and we have to correct the situation," Ms. Marois said.
The new language bill would also eliminate so-called bridging schools. Currently, wealthy francophone and immigrant parents can override restrictions in Bill 101 by sending their children to private English-language schools for a few years to become eligible to enroll in the English language public school system.
The bill would also impose the language restrictions that apply to elementary and secondary schools on colleges. That means students graduating from French language high schools will be barred from attending an English language CEGEP.
Earlier this month, the PQ had to backpedal on several election promises, including abolition of the $200 health tax and demands for more powers from Ottawa, saying that minority status meant it would be unable to get enough support to pass them.
In a bid to get some of its agenda through, the government said it was open to exempting CEPGEPs from the language law and dropping a proposal to include daycare so that other provisions of the bill could be adopted.