Federal industry minister evasive on PQ government's planned changes to Bill 101

MONTREAL – Stephen Harper’s Quebec lieutenant had to listen to concerns Monday over how Ottawa will respond to the Parti Quebecois government’s plans to broaden Bill 101 — the province’s French Language Charter.

It came from the owner of a small business who attended a speech by Industry Minister Christian Paradis that was hosted by a chamber of commerce on Montreal’s west island.

During a question-and-answer session, Paradis was asked if there was a role for the federal government in the proposed changes.

The PQ wants to make French the language of the workplace in companies with between 11 and 50 employees. Currently, that provision applies to those with 50 or more workers.

Paradis didn’t appear to be worried about language wars and the possibility of increased tensions between Ottawa and Quebec.

“When I am in my riding nobody is speaking about the feud, referendum or language issues or whatever, he said.

“What they talk about is to make sure that they have jobs and that they can compete in the world with new markets.”

Paradis said that when the Quebec government wants to discuss jobs, Ottawa “will be very happy to speak about that.”

He said the Conservative government is always interested in working with the Quebec government on economic issues — when there is common ground.

“But we won’t take any decisions which will jeopardize the economy of the federation,” he added.

Paradis was also grilled about a PQ promise to cancel a $58-million government loan to the Jeffrey Mine and put an end to Quebec’s production and export of asbestos.

Paradis said the Quebec government can do what it wants in its own jurisdiction.

His riding encompasses Thetford Mines which until recently also mined asbestos.

“They are talking about a ban, they are talking about a lot of things, so we’ll what their position is on this,” he said.

“I’m not in a position to say what I’ll do as a federal politician, but of course, it’s sad what I’m hearing from them.”