Federal parties denounce PQ immigration bill
Published Tuesday, October 23, 2007 7:33PM EDT
OTTAWA - All national parties savaged a Parti Quebecois bill that would keep some immigrants from holding public office in Quebec.
The legislation has been pilloried by other parties in the province's national assembly, been panned as anti-immigrant by opinion leaders in the province, and been decried as unconstitutional.
It would create a new Quebec citizenship and would bestow that citizenship only on immigrants who pass a French test. Failure to pass the test would see immigrants forbidden from sitting on school boards, municipal councils, or in the provincial legislature.
It is the latest twist in an increasingly heated debate over immigration in the province.
Federal Conservatives at first appeared reluctant to get involved in the debate and initially refused requests for comment.
Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn refused to discuss the bill -- saying it was not Ottawa's issue. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office also declined to say anything.
But late in the day a senior cabinet minister denounced the PQ legislation.
Tory House leader Peter Van Loan said he was pleased to see that the bill had limited support in the Quebec legislature -- both the minority Liberal government and the Official Opposition Action democratique du Quebec made it clear Tuesday that they wouldn't support it.
"It's heartening to see this bill's not going to go anywhere,'' Van Loan said in an interview.
"Every Canadian has democratic rights. And those rights -- to vote, to run for office -- are fundamental. . . I don't think those rights can be taken away.''
The Conservatives have been reluctant to wade into the debate on so-called reasonable accommodation in Quebec.
Last spring, after several girls were kicked out of a Quebec tae-kwon-do tournament for wearing Islamic headscarves, federal ministers ran down staircases, claimed ignorance of the story, or simply refused to return phone calls when asked about it.
The reasonable accommodation discussion was fuelled early this year by Action Democratique leader Mario Dumont, who suggested that Quebec had perhaps gone too far in catering to immigrants.
The issue spread like wildfire, at one point prompting days' worth of news coverage when a sugar shack removed pork from its traditional pea soup to accommodate a group of Muslim visitors.
The tiny village of Herouxville, Que., leapt from obscurity to international headlines for drafting a town charter with rules for immigrants -- which included a rule against stoning women, and another upholding a woman's right to drive a car.
In the midst of that debate, Dumont surged in popularity and nearly became premier in an election last spring.
Now the PQ, their federal cousins the Bloc Quebecois, and the Conservatives are competing to capture votes in the same 41 ridings that Dumont won in the province's mainly rural, francophone heartland.
As a result the Bloc Quebecois has zeroed in on protecting the French language in the new session of Parliament in what may be a parallel effort to the PQ's new French-language bill for immigrants.
And the Conservatives are wary of getting dragged into the debate.
Their hopes of a majority government rest largely on whether they win the same ridings as Dumont in Quebec, and alienating the voters who backed him could jeopardize those breakthroughs.
The Liberals and NDP, meanwhile, immediately blasted the PQ legislation when asked about it Tuesday.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called it a scheme to transform the immigration debate into the kind of English-French spat that has traditionally fuelled the sovereignty movement.
He urged PQ Leader Pauline Marois to immediately withdraw the controversial Bill 195.
"Thankfully we have a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which prevents certain politicians from going off the rails like she has,'' Dion said.
"This will never be welcome in Quebec. The Quebec that I know will never accept this kind of thing.''
The NDP's newest MP, former Quebec cabinet minister Tom Mulcair, also denounced the bill.
Mulcair said the Bloc has passed its "best-before date'' and is trying to invent a language crisis to restoke separatist fires. The Bloc is calling on Ottawa to apply Quebec's French-only language laws to federally-regulated companies in the province.
Mulcair said Marois and the PQ are equally desperate to whip up a language crisis. He called her proposal "shocking'' and added: "It's again an indication that they're out there groping for something to hang on to.''
Mulcair predicted that neither the Bloc nor the PQ will be able to whip up a crisis.
"Quebecers are far more secure in their cultural identity . . . and I think that Madame Marois is playing in a black and white movie in an era where everyone is in high definition colour TV.''