Philippe Couillard's argument during Thursday's election debate that bilingualism is an asset has turned the election campaign to the linguistic fears of francophone Quebecers.

Premier Pauline Marois said it is clear that Quebecers cannot rely on the Liberal party to Protect the French Language, and said if re-elected, she will make adopting a revised Charter of the French Language a priority.

"We will adopt the new Charter in our mandate that is a major measure to protect the French language and to protect the citizens. We want live in French, to work in French, that is very important," said Marois.

During the previous 18 months the Parti Quebecois tried and failed to pass revisions to the Charter of the French Language, with one of the sticking points being a measure to give anglophones priority access to English CEGEPs and universities -- a move that would in many cases mean francophones and allophones with good grades would not be allowed to attend.

But Marois said more protection for French is crucial, especially if Quebecers believe bilingualism is an asset.

She could offer few details of her vision of changes to Bill 101 but she mentioned more programs to teach immigrants French and more English courses at French CEGEPs to entice francophone students who might otherwise attend English CEGEPs.

The measure would also help English students who are having difficulty getting into the increasingly-crowded English CEGEPs, Marois said.

The new charter would not formally restrict francophone students from attending English CEGEPs, as had been previously mandated under Bill 14. She also said that measures could be taken to ensure that students in English CEGEPs are forced to prove fluency in French.

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard did not respond directly when asked if French was in jeopardy in Montreal. He said that it will always need special attention but Bill 101 has achieved a state of balance which is accepted by all Quebecers.

Couldn't believe her ears

Other PQ members expressed surprise at Couillard's outright championing of bilingualism, including in the workplace.

"When I heard him, I couldn't believe my ears," said Immigration and Language Minister Diane De Courcy. "The Liberals have not changed. The protection of the French language and Quebec's culture is not in their DNA."

Marois said there is nothing wrong with individuals being bilingual, but draws the line at having companies, schools, or government services being officially bilingual.

"If you want to be bilingual, I agree with you as a person -- but as an institution and as government, I think the official language is French and we don't have to be bilingual in our institutions," said Marois.

During the election debate Couillard said he thought it would be a good thing for even factory workers to be bilingual, and on Friday he explained again why he thought it would be a good idea.

"It's also a great advantage for anyone to be bilingual. I know. And this is something the pequistes don't want me to say but I will say it again. There is not a single parent in Quebec that doesn't hope for their kids to be bilingual," said Couillard.

"It's such a fantastic asset in life and it goes the other way, you know, for English-speaking kids to be bilingual in French is a fantastic asset."

Porter document

Couillard also released a document Friday in response to allegations that he had been in business with Arther Porter, the former MUHC chief who was in charge of the superhospital project and is now accused of a series of fraud-related charges.

Couillard has repeatedly stated that he undertook no business with Porter and Friday issued a legal document apparently proving that nothing had ever come of the company registered by the two.

Couillard had a copy of the document in his pocket at the debate and even offered to show it to the other leaders midway through their discussion. See it here.

Lisee 'pessimistic' about sovereignty

Meanwhile Friday, Rosemont candidate Jean-Francois Lisee, a former journalist who served as the PQ's minister responsible for Montreal, spoke openly about his disappointment with Quebecers' lack of appetite for another vote on sovereignty.

“Right now it seems that they’re not ready. I've always been optimistic about sovereignty,” said Lisée. “But I have rarely been as pessimistic as I am now. I was very much struck by the signal that Quebecers sent at the beginning of this campaign. I am pessimistic about the possibility of a referendum in the first term."