Holding a commanding lead in public opinion polls, François Legault's fledgling political coalition is urging a crackdown by the province's language police on Montreal merchants who fail to speak French to their clients.
The measure is part of a series of proposals unveiled Monday by the Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec to protect the French language and consolidate the future party's base of support among francophones. His yet-to-be-formed party has leaped ahead of the Liberals and PQ among Quebec voters.
Mr. Legault, who earlier this year launched the right-leaning group, said the province's language police must enforce the law and also urged francophone Quebeckers to demand that they be served in French. "Each Quebecker has a responsibility to ensure that the language of commerce is French," the former Parti Québécois cabinet minister said. "People need to abide by the law so that Quebeckers can be served in French, especially in Montreal."
The proposal didn't go over well with some Montreal merchants. Peter Siozos, head of Montreal's Crescent Street Merchant Association, said businesses serve their customers in the language of their choice. "Cracking down by using language inspectors is showboating and outdated," Mr. Siozos said.
Along with the coalition's co-founder, Montreal entrepreneur Charles Sirois, a staunch federalist and former Quebec Liberal Party supporter, Mr. Legault also proposed to limit the number of immigrants in the province to 45,000 a year over the next two years. He said a transition period was needed to ensure the integration of immigrants to francophone society.
"Quebec must become sovereign in language matters," Mr. Sirois said, while insisting that seeking complete political sovereignty will never be part of the coalition's objectives.
Limiting the number of immigrants has become a controversial issue in the province. The number of new arrivals in Quebec has jumped from 44,681 in 2006 to close to 54,000 in 2010 with concerns being raised by opposition parties that immigrants are turning to English rather than French as their main language of communication.
Statistics from the Quebec Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities showed that those with some knowledge of French has steadily increased from 57.7 per cent in 2006 to 65.1 per cent in 2010.
However, Mr. Legault argued that too few immigrants receive the proper training to learn French. Once measures are in place to ensure that immigrants are properly integrated into Quebec's French language society, he proposed that the ceiling of 45,000 a year be "progressively" increased to 50,000.
Monday's policy paper on French language and culture was the final leg of a political manifesto that also includes measures on education, health and the economy and which will serve as the foundation for the creation of a new political party.
Mr. Legault will begin touring the province in mid-September as money continues to pour into the coalition's coffers and potential candidates line up at the gates. He reiterated that he is willing to govern Quebec for two five-year mandates and then leave politics for good.
"I'm ready to commit to politics for 10 years," he said Monday, denying earlier reports that if elected he would quickly seek to implement many of his controversial ideas such as higher university tuition fees and cost-cutting measures in health and education within five years and then quit.
"We need to win a first mandate before seeking a second. The population will have the final word. Just ask Gilles Duceppe," Mr. Legault said in reference to the former Bloc Québécois leader whose party was trounced by the New Democrats in May's federal election.
Since the Bloc debacle, the political landscape in Quebec has shifted radically with internal divisions in the sovereignty movement wreaking havoc on the PQ and its leader, Pauline Marois. Defections in the PQ caucus combined with the emergence of a number of pro-sovereignty splinter groups have undermined the PQ's chances of forming the next government. The political turmoil has propelled Mr. Legault's popularity to new heights as he positions himself as the symbol of change many voters indicated they were seeking by voting NDP federally.