The government is launching a committee to look into the use of French in federally regulated industries in Quebec, as MPs debate a private members' bill to guarantee that the province's language laws apply.
NDP MP Robert Aubin tabled a bill last month that would guarantee that Quebec's French Language Charter, or Bill 101, applies to companies that fall under federal jurisdiction, like chartered banks and transit companies that cross provincial boundaries. That bill was being debated Friday afternoon in the House of Commons.
On Thursday, Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced a committee to investigate whether the French language rights of employees in Quebec are being respected.
But the four-sentence news release has no details of what the government has planned, and a spokeswoman for Paradis, the lead minister on the government's Quebec files, declined to provide any more detail.
The committee was announced, Pascale Boulay said, in response to the NDP bill and because of recent media coverage in Quebec about the predominance of English in the banking industry.
In question period, the NDP and Bloc Québécois criticized the lack of information.
"We don't know who's going to sit on the committee, which enterprises will be affected, what the schedule is, or whether the report will be made public," Aubin said.
"The NDP has done its homework and already put forward a bill on this issue... Why not just support our initiative?"
Maxime Bernier, a Quebec MP and the minister of state for small business and tourism, said the government is going to gather information before deciding whether to support the legislation.
"When it comes to the French language, I don't think we have lessons to learn from the NDP," Bernier said. "It's important to promote French, to promote English too. We're a bilingual country and I'm proud to be Canadian."
Aubin's bill is a private member's bill and as such gets little time allocated for debate. It's rare for private members' bills to become law, but it's almost guaranteed to become law if the government supports it.
A spokesman for Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser said his office is reviewing the legislation and wasn't prepared to comment.
"We are still conducting a more detailed analysis of the bill," Nelson Kalil said.
Bloc Québécois MP André Bellavance said the problem is already well-known and urged language protection for Quebecers.
"We're going to promote and to protect the French language, not just in Quebec but in Canada," Bernier said.
"The government set up the consultative committee, which is going to go on the ground, talk to Canadians and make sure the use of French in the workplace in Quebec in federally regulated industries is respected."