Canada's commissioner of official languages says he will be keeping a close eye on the new Quebec government of premier-designate Pauline Marois as it moves toward toughening the province's language laws.

Marois has pledged to overhaul Bill 101, Quebec's French Language Charter, to stop a perceived decline in French around the Montreal and Gatineau areas, which she calls a major concern.

Federal languages commissioner Graham Fraser said Friday he intends to make sure the changes aren't in conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Canada's commissioner of official languages, Graham Fraser, says he'll be watching Quebec's new government to ensure the constitutional rights of anglophones aren't trampled. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

He also is concerned about any measures that may damage institutions of Quebec's English minority popularity, such as CEGEP junior colleges.

Fraser said he has sent a letter to Marois asking for a meeting and was encouraged that she addressed anglophone rights in her victory speech Tuesday night.

He rejected suggestions that the French language is in decline in Quebec, pointing out you can't welcome 45,000 newcomers into your society every year and not expect to see a drop in the percentage of individuals who claim French as their first language.

Marois's election platform called for a new Bill 101 that would force non-anglophone students to attend CEGEP in French, whereas they currently have the option of enrolling in English CEGEPs.

She would also extend Bill 101's provision that makes French the mandatory workplace language to businesses with as few as 11 employees. Currently, those measures generally apply to businesses with 50 or more workers.

Hot potato

Discussions over Bill 101 are generally a political minefield with resonances across Canada.

The law's requirement that French be twice the size of any other language on signs has been anathema to the province's non-French speakers, while critics contend some companies are forced to bend over backwards to satisfy the language-of-business clauses.

But for many French-speaking Quebecers, Bill 101, introduced by the separatist Parti Québécois government of former premier René Lévesque, was essential to ensuring they could shop, work, get government services and generally feel at home in their native language, following decades of Anglo domination in the upper echelons of business and society.

With files from CBC News