|Quebec's Education Minister Marie Malavoy, left, stands beside Premier Pauline Marois Pauline Marois. (QMI Agency files)
MONTREAL - The Parti Quebecois' attacks on the English language are a sign of intolerance and desperation, say critics.
Education Minister Marie Malavoy suggested cutting back on English classes for first-grade French students. She also floated the idea of scaling back intensive English courses taught to Grade 6 students in French schools.
But it was the words Malavoy used to describe the English language itself that caused the most outrage among critics.
"My party is very critical towards the idea of introducing a foreign language while (children) are beginning to master concepts, grammar, syntax and vocabulary in their mother tongue," she told Quebec City's Le Soleil newspaper this week.
Interim Liberal Leader Jean-Marc Fournier accused Malavoy of closed-mindedness.
"There are English Quebecers, they aren't foreigners," he said. "The intolerance of the Parti Quebecois has to stop."
Malavoy also raised eyebrows by saying the PQ would make sure students in French schools are taught more about the sovereignty movement.
The PQ served notice even before its Sept. 4 election win that it planned to provoke crises to drum up support for sovereignty.
Longtime Quebec political observer and newspaper editor Jim Duff says the PQ is prepared to target its own French constituency to provoke such a crisis.
"All (Malavoy) is doing is pissing in her own soup," Duff, editor of the Hudson Gazette, told QMI Agency.
"Why else would you polarize people? It's to deliberately create a crisis where none exists."
The PQ has tried to quell suggestions that it's anti-English but several recent policy announcements have drawn scepticism.
Premier Pauline Marois plans to extend French-language laws to small businesses and federal agencies in Quebec. Marois has also said she'll bar francophones and immigrants from attending English community colleges.
English groups are also concerned that the PQ might have them in the crosshairs.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, whose umbrella group represents 41 English associations in Quebec, says Malavoy's rhetoric risks dividing English and French youth.
"What chance is there for bridge-building?" asked Martin-Laforge, director-general of the Quebec Community Groups Network.
"They're just exacerbating the problem of two solitudes."
Marie Malavoy's past:
Quebec Education Minister Marie Malavoy is no stranger to controversy.
Born in Berlin to parents from France, the former university professor was forced to resign from Jacques Parizeau's cabinet in November 1994 for alleged election fraud. It turns out Malavoy wasn't even a Canadian citizen for most of her adult life but still voted, illegally, in the 1980 sovereignty referendum as well as several provincial and federal elections.