PQ wants to opt out of federal culture programs, tougher language law

The Parti Québécois says it would introduce a new language law if elected and seek to pull Quebec out of federal cultural agencies like the National Film Board and the CRTC.

The Parti Québécois says it would introduce a new language law if elected and seek to pull Quebec out of federal cultural agencies like the National Film Board and the CRTC.

Leader Pauline Marois says she would demand $300 million from the federal government so that Quebec could handle its own cultural programs.

She says the federal Conservatives have shown they have little interest in culture. However, she was hardpressed to explain what she would do if Ottawa refused her demand.

Marois said the Tories would simply have to live with the political consequences.

The recent federal election saw the Tories stall in Quebec amid a controversy about cuts to arts funding, and the government was also criticized by sovereigntists for ignoring the issue in this week's throne speech.

"Stephen Harper sent a clear message to the people of Quebec [in the throne speech]: He doesn't care at all about our culture," Marois said in a statement.

In introducing the Péquiste cultural platform Thursday, Marois also promised a new French-language law — which she described as a new Bill 101.

That was the legislative label of the landmark language law tabled by the first Péquiste government of René Lévesque in 1977, and it restricted the use of English store signs and access to English-language schools.

Over the years, the law has been watered down somewhat by court rulings, and Marois says she's alarmed to see the use of French backsliding in Montreal.

She accuses Liberal Premier Jean Charest of doing nothing to halt that slide.

With the campaign hitting the halfway mark for the Dec. 8 election and her party trailing badly in opinion polls, Marois has ratcheted up her attacks on Charest.

This week, she called the premier a liar and signalled her plan to hit him with harder campaign messaging.

Her use of hot-button issues like culture and language is designed to strike at one of the Liberals' biggest potential vulnerabilities.

Parties squabble about who best defends French

The separatist PQ is viewed as the staunchest defender of the French language and Quebec culture; and the demand for a withdrawal from Canadian cultural agencies is a longstanding one from Quebec nationalists.

However, Marois's request appears to fall far short of what even some federalist Liberals were proposing in the 1990s. In the days following the failure of the Meech Lake constitutional deal, many Quebec Liberals called for the transfer of 22 new powers — including culture — from Ottawa to the provinces.

Marois would seek control over programs run by Heritage Canada, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada, and the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission — Canada's broadcast regulator.

The new language law proposed by Marois would extend the rules which currently apply to businesses with more than 50 employees, and apply them to those with less than 50.

The Liberals' most high-profile promise on culture has been to eliminate the provincial sales tax on Quebec artistic products like movies and CDs. While the PQ turned to cultural issues Thursday, the provincial campaign has so far been dominated by the economy.

The Liberals expressed incredulity that the PQ would make such promises on culture at this time.

"They're returning to constitutional squabbles when we're in the middle of an economic crisis," Jacques Dupuis, the justice minister, told a talk-show panel on the LCN network, a French-language television station.

Meanwhile, ADQ Leader Mario Dumont said he wants to reduce welfare benefits.

Dumont said he would make welfare recipients sign a contract that described their social assistance as "temporary help." They would then be urged to get job training and find new work.

Under the ADQ plan, those who fail to get jobs would see their benefits reduced while companies that hire welfare recipients would get a $3,000 annual grant per new employee.

Dumont said he estimates that within four years, his plan would get 70,000 people off social assistance and back to work.

He said that 10,000 people would get back to work within one year. Because it costs the province $72 million in benefits for 10,000 people on welfare, and the benefits plan would cost the government $30 million, Dumont said the measures would save $42 million in the first year.