MONTREAL -- All eyes in the Quebec legislature seem to be on Montreal, where a new survey found that employers are increasingly asking new hires to have English proficiency.

But while the CAQ government says it has a new idea of how to crack down, others say it’s dreaming.

Precisely, 60 per cent of businesses in Montreal now ask for English skills, according to the survey, which was released just last week.

The province said immediately that it would look into it. And it’s already found a proposal: to apply the language law Bill 101 to all federally regulated businesses, which includes things like railways, broadcasters and banks.

Immigration and language minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said he’ll soon release a language action plan from the CAQ government that will include this idea. 

Critics, meanwhile, say the proposal simply isn’t possible.

“The federal entreprises [are] going to be under Bill 101 how? Magic?” asked Pascal Berube of the Parti Quebecois. “We are still a province.”

Bill 101 was the legislation that declared French the sole official language in Quebec.

Under it, businesses in Quebec with at least 50 employees must use French as their working language. 

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey agreed with Berube that the province doesn’t have this kind of power over businesses that are federally regulated, as they fall under the Official Languages Act of Canada.

“The only way you could possibly bring in Bill 101, which doesn't maintain the equality of the two languages, is with a federal amendement,” Grey said. “I don't think that's forthcoming.”

Others believe there are more effective ways to promote the use of French in Montreal, in any case.

"Provide every Quebecer with free French classes,” suggested Liberal NMA Andre Fortin. 

“If you want to improve the quality of the French language in Quebec, if you want make sure more Quebecers are able to speak in French, that’s a very simple way to do it.”

A more cynical group sees the government announcement as a bid to appeal to its base during hard times. Most of the businesses that are federally regulated already function in French within Quebec, anyway, they say.

“There is demonstrably not a problem with the treatment of employees or the treatment of the public in regard to language performance in Quebec,” said Geoffrey Chambers of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which represents English-speaking groups.

“The English language isn’t a toxic bad thing—it’s an advantage.”

CAQ leaders say Montreal must fall in line, however, with its vision of a Quebec that’s fully French again.