Retrospective 2021: The linguistic debate creates turbulence in Quebec


While Bill 96 has landed with a thud in the English-speaking community, some nationalists have argued that it does not go far enough.

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QUEBEC – The year 2021 was marked by a relaunch of the debate on the state of the French language in Quebec. And it’s not over.

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When the fall session of the National Assembly was suspended on December 10, the parliamentary committee responsible for examining Bill 96 Рthe bill tabled by the Coalition Avenir Qu̩bec government in May to strengthen the Charter of the French Language Рhad only managed to go through five of the 202 articles in the bill.

Opposition MPs have asked a lot of questions and proposed a few amendments, but the bill remains largely unchanged at this point. Work will resume in 2022.

Bill 96 landed with a bang in the English-speaking community and was criticized by CEGEP administrators and the business lobby. He also did not garner broad support among nationalists who complained that he did not go far enough.

The views of the two solitudes still seemed so ingrained.

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Some think this is fine with government. The CAQ Рa coalition of federalists and nationalists Рthrives on finding common ground among the electorate. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Fran̤ois Legault ended the year under pressure to further toughen the bill.

The main point of friction with the nationalists is the government’s decision not to extend the rules of the language charter to the CEGEP system, which would have prohibited Francophones and Allophones from attending Anglophone CEGEPs.

Full of enthusiasm, with more allophones than anglophones in some cases, anglophone CEGEPs have become the lightning rod for nationalist grievances that the English system equates to francophones.

Sociologist Guy Rocher, a 97-year Quiet Revolution veteran, sounded the alarm when he appeared at public hearings on the bill, arguing for extending the rules of the charter for CEGEPs.

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“In reality, we should have been in 1977,” Rocher told the committee. “We made a bad assessment. Things have changed, the context has changed. If I am here, it is because I am worried about the future of the French language. At my age, I have the right to worry about the future.

At the other end of the spectrum was the province’s English-speaking community, represented by the Quebec Community Groups Network and others, including the new Language Policy Working Group, who got up to speed.

The angst in the community was further fueled by the federal government, which tabled at around the same time reforms to the Official Languages ​​Act in the form of Bill C-32, which the QCGN called “Clear attack” against the equality of English and French in Canada. . (The reforms were not passed due to the federal election.)

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But the immediate concern of the English-speaking community is Bill 96, which the CAQ government wants to pass before the provincial elections in October 2022.

“Basically, Bill 96 is an attempt to delegitimize our community,” said Marlene Jennings, president of the QCGN, in a year-end letter to its members. “The bill distorts the Charter of the French language, attempting to make it exclusive and separative.

During the hearings, Jennings, a former federal deputy, mingled with Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language who did his best to sell the idea that Bill 96 does not affect rights in any way. of the English-speaking community.

“This battle is not over; it’s not over, ”Jennings told the Montreal Gazette after the hearings ended.

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The QCGN opposed the government’s use of the term “historic Anglophones” to define those who would be eligible to receive services in English. The designation would only apply to those who are currently eligible to attend an English school (which does not apply to many English speakers and ironically applies to some French speakers.)

As of December 16, a total of 42 groups have approved a QCGN-sponsored resolution opposing the use of the term. The resolution, which follows an open letter sent to Legault bearing 4,200 signatures, states that any attempt to define English-speaking Quebecers as “historic” or to limit their right to receive communications and government services in English is “deeply reprehensible. “.

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Meanwhile, Jolin-Barrette found himself embroiled in the business lobby. Michel Leblanc, president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, told the Bill 96 committee that efforts to restrict the use of English at work could drive head offices to Toronto and stifle l export economy of Quebec.

But efforts by the English-speaking community to garner public support for his arguments met with major turmoil in early November thanks to Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau, who delivered a speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Montreal in English only, then told reporters he was able to live in the city for 14 years without having to speak French.

Not surprisingly, Rousseau’s comments caused a firestorm. Although he quickly apologized and said he would make efforts to improve his French, the incident reinforced the idea in the minds of many Quebecers that the language is under siege in Montreal.

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