Parti Québécois wants to overhaul funding for English CEGEPs, but not extend Bill 101

The Parti Québécois wants to curb the abundance of francophone students choosing to study in English by overhauling the way English-language CEGEPS are funded.

Party members also vote in favour of banning some civil servants from wearing religious garb at work

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-Francois Lisée following a confidence vote at the party's policy convention in Montreal, Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The Parti Québécois wants to curb the abundance of francophone students choosing to study in English by overhauling the way English-language CEGEPS are funded.

The measure, which was adopted on Sunday at the party's annual policy convention, represents an effort to bolster the French language, but is a softer approach that falls short of extending Bill 101 to CEGEPs — an idea that many hardline delegates support.

Ultimately, the party adopted what Lisée is framing as a compromise. 

Give students a choice when it comes to choosing whether to attend an English or French CEGEP, but make funding for English junior colleges proportional to the size of Quebec's English-speaking population.

"I wanted there to be no doubt that within the Parti Québécois, asserting the French language doesn't mean excluding others," said Lisée, after his speech wrapped up the convention Sunday.

Bill 101 specifies that the only students permitted to enrol in English-language elementary and high schools are those with at least one parent who was educated in English in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada.

Provincial government statistics show that the percentage of CEGEP students coming from the French system and enrolling in English junior colleges doubled from five per cent in 1993 to 10 per cent in 2015.

Raising the bar for immigrants, anglophones

However, Lisée said he supports the proposal that all students in English-language CEGEPs be forced to pass a French exam before they can graduate, saying they need it to succeed in Quebec.

He also called for tougher immigration laws, adding that immigrants must be fluent in the province's official language before moving to Quebec.

"They have to learn French before coming here," Lisée said.

The Parti Québécois wants to strengthen the French language without excluding others, said leader Jean-François Lisée. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

In the event that his party is elected to power, he said he will also push for better English second-language classes offered in French-language elementary and high schools.

Party members also endorsed the idea of implementing an enriched English course for francophone students they could do on an exchange with an English CEGEP for a semester.

"May the best network win. And so as there was an increase in the Anglo CEGEPs in the past few years, we hope there is an increase in the French CEGEPs," Lisée said.

In order to boost public-sector schools in Quebec, members also threw their support behind gradually reducing funding for private schools across the province.

Religious neutrality comes up again

Party members also adopted a resolution concerning secularism in the public sector in another measure that also appears to be a softer approach to previous stances taken by the PQ.

The platform outlines that civil servants should refrain from showcasing their religious convictions at work, but that most of them would be permitted to wear religious garb under a PQ government.

Agnès Maltais, the PQ critic on secularism, specified in a news conference that the party's position on religious accommodation means only civil servants in a position of authority — police officers, judges, prison guards, teachers and daycare educators — would be banned from wearing religious garb while on the job.

Unlike the failed Charter of Values introduced by the PQ in 2013, other civil servants in the public sector would still be permitted to wear religious symbols at work.

"It's written in black and white in the program," said Maltais.

With files from The Canadian Press