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PQ fumes as Jean Charest shuts down debate on language bill

Quebec Opposition Leader Pauline Marois takes the government to task over language rights in National Assembly on Oct. 18, 2010.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Quebec government has invoked closure to limit debate on controversial changes to the province's language law in order to comply with last year's Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

The exceptional move sparked an uproar in the National Assembly Monday over a bill that opens the door for some wealthy francophone and immigrant families, who send their children to private non-subsidized English language schools, to eventually attend anglophone public schools.

Under Quebec's French Language Charter, commonly known as Bill 101, only children of a parent who was educated in English in Canada are allowed to attend English public school. The Parti Québécois contends the Liberals are invoking closure to stifle debate over a bill that would weaken that restriction.

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"The Liberal government has bowed to pressure from the anglophone lobby using closure. Closure to increase access to English schools. Closure to allow the rich to buy a right to access an English [public]school along with all their siblings. Closure to butcher again Bill 101. Closure to abide by a Canadian Constitution forced on Quebec. The Premier has no mandate to open access to English schools," PQ Leader Pauline Marois said.

Outside the National Assembly a demonstration is being organized in Montreal and Quebec City by a coalition of groups opposed to the bill.

Premier Jean Charest accused Ms. Marois of "radicalizing" the debate and of sympathizing with groups that include a former member of the 1970s terrorist group Front de Libération du Québec who are calling for the legislation's withdrawal.

"She takes the advice of a former FLQ sentenced for murder and sentenced for detonating bombs in 2001 and accepts that members of her own caucus gives money to people who encourage violence in Quebec," Mr. Charest charged.

Mr. Charest was attempting to link the PQ to a former FLQ member, Rhéal Mathieu, who has taken part in a poster campaign underscoring "Liberal corruption." Mr. Mathieu has written articles that appeared on the non-profit website which has received funding from PQ members.

In October of 2009 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions of the French Language Charter adopted in 2002 banning so-called "bridging schools" was unconstitutional. Bridging schools were used by wealthy francophone and allophone parents to circumvent Bill 101. They would send their children to an English language non-subsidized private school for a few years and then transfer them to the English public school system.

The Supreme Court ruled that if parents could show they had a genuine desire to become part of the English-language minority they should be allowed to adopt a "genuine educational pathway" using the private schools to eventually attend public schools. The government was given until this Friday to comply with the ruling.

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"It is sad to see this government on its knees before the Supreme Court," PQ MNA Benoît Charette said. "It is sad that this government has taken into account the anglo-Canadian propaganda aimed at making us feel guilty simply for existing."

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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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