Conservative MP Maxime Bernier shown here on Parliament Hill in October 2010. The outspoken MP says Quebec doesn't need Bill 101. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Maxime Bernier, who is fast earning himself a reputation as a slaughterer of sacred cows, is now taking on a big one: Quebec's landmark language law. 

'We don't need Bill 101 to protect the French language. They know we speak French in Quebec, and we will speak French for a long time.' —Conservative MP Maxime Bernier

The former federal cabinet minister has told a Halifax radio station that he doesn't see the need for Bill 101.

He made the comment as part of a broader discussion about whether governments have a role to play in creating a national identity through legislation, with laws like the Canada Health Act.

Bernier said it's not government's role to create an identity, citing Quebec's language law as an example.

"It's like in Quebec — we don't need Bill 101 to protect the French language over there," Bernier told his interviewer, Halifax's News 95.7 host Jordi Morgan.

"They know we speak French in Quebec and we will speak French for a long time, I believe it."

Bernier's remarks could hold national implications. They spread like wildfire over the internet late Friday in Quebec, where the Conservative government holds 11 seats and is eager to keep them in its quest for a majority.

Bill 101 contentious for decades

Bill 101, established in 1977, is often credited in Quebec for saving the French language from decline and, to many in the province, it's as much of an identifying symbol as the fleur-de-lys flag.

Enacted by the Parti Québécois under René Lévesque, the law had two main provisions: to limit access to English public schools and restrict the use of English on street signs.

Attacking Bill 101 has been a taboo subject for politicians for more than a generation. Before it, Quebec underwent a turbulent era of street protests and even riots over language.

Over time, the law has been watered down somewhat by Supreme Court decisions prompted by lawsuits.

The law has been criticized by Anglo-rights activists and some francophones and immigrants who would like to send their children to English schools.