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PQ demands Charest crack down on corporate language scofflaws

Premier Jean Charest defends his government's enforcement of Bill 101, Quebec's language law, during debate at the National Assembly on Dec. 8, 2011.

Jacques Boissinot/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec's Liberals are under renewed pressure to enforce language-law provisions that bar companies from bidding on government contracts or receiving public funds if they don't comply with the French Language Charter.

The opposition Parti Québécois accused Premier Jean Charest's government Thursday of being soft on private companies such as the National Bank and the pension-fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, who in recent weeks have been targeted for failing to hire executives who speak French and allowing English to become the dominant language in the workplace.

Under Quebec's language law, known as Bill 101, companies that hire 50 or more employees are required to show that French is the primary language in the workplace in order to receive government contracts or funding.

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"How can the Premier tolerate situations that affect the fundamental right of Quebeckers to work in French," PQ Leader Pauline Marois said in the National Assembly, adding that a clear message needs to be sent to companies that the government will refuse to deal with those "who don't respect the letter and the spirit of Bill 101."

PQ MNA François Rebello said the National Bank received $5-million in government contracts from 12 ministries. "Will the Premier demand from his ministers and from himself what we should all do and tell the National Bank: No French, no contracts?"

Recent reports have suggested that several private firms, including aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Inc. and computer technology firm CGI Group Inc., have failed to comply with the language-law provisions that require communications in the workplace to be conducted in French.

Montreal daily La Presse reported that Bombardier employees complained that e-mails, written reports and meetings were in English. They also said the hiring of a growing number of unilingual, anglophone executives who were viewed as competent but had no interest in learning French.

Similar complaints were made by employees at CGI Group, where English had also become the dominant language of communications.

The complaints follow the controversial hiring of unilingual senior executives at Invanhoé-Cambridge, the real-estate subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. The fund's president, Michael Sabia, said the two executives targeted by the complaints have since been enrolled into an intensive French-immersion program.

Mr. Charest reiterated his government's commitment to enforce the use of French in the workplace but refused PQ demands to launch a full-blown crackdown.

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"Each time their will be negligence, we will make sure that people are called to order and we will take the necessary measures to continue to vigorously defend our language," Mr. Charest said.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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