Through all the pettiness and venalities of Quebec language battles through the years, Minister for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette’s suggestion last week to take away English services from immigrants while maintaining them for the “historic anglophone community” is a new low in nationalist pandering, prejudice and outright illegality. We expect more from someone with a background in Constitutional Law and we expect better from the CAQ.
Revenue Quebec can’t be too happy with Jolin-Barrette as its bureaucrats ponder how to collect taxes from people who can’t understand the forms if this nonsense sticks. This after RQ invested a great deal in upgrading its English services over the past few years.
Jolin-Barrette proposes to take away the right of service in English to anyone who did not go to English schools. He uses Bill 101 as the defining source for his idea to create two classes of citizens within the non-francophone community. “Historic anglophones” - those who went to English schools - and everyone else. If this doesn’t smack of banana republic authoritarianism we’d like to know what does? Worse than that, it smacks of the theocratic tyranny found in places we usually send our armed forces to fight. This comes to mind as we write this in the aftermath of Remembrance Day.
So no more Revenue forms in English, no more Hydro bills in English, no more from the SAAQ in English and God help you if you try to get information in English on the phone. And he has not opined about what he intends to enforce in health care. Maybe ailing immigrants in hospitals can just die in French because they went to the wrong schools? Jolin-Barrette hasn’t come up with a suggestion to that dilemma yet. Maybe we’ll all have to provide proof of “eligibility” to the government and get a numeric code we can use to prove our linguistic “purity.”
Well Mr. Minister, here’s a flash for you. Aside from the indecency of creating two classes of citizenship, the right to services in either official language is a federal guarantee to all citizens of Canada. A guarantee that rests in the Charter of Rights. It’s not a right you get to play with.
We know, we know. You’re counting on nobody having the wherewithal to challenge your actions in the courts. Well you may not have to wait that long. Your Premier, M. Legault, has said so many times in so many places - including our boardroom - that he wants his legacy to be as the “business” Premier of Quebec. That Quebec getting 70% of transfer payments is unsustainable. We need to grow he said. We need foreign investment he has said. Well we’re not going to get it as Quebec is made another laughing stock around the world. Didn’t you see the global reaction to Pastagate, Bonjour-Hi and the scathing 60 minutes report on our language policies? Don’t you get it? To the global business community we’re too big a risk. We appear like a third-world country where no one can predict what ludicrous laws of “nullification and interposition” we’ll come up with next.
And a question for you Mr. Minister. How is it you came up with this idea just weeks after your boss, Premier Legault, made it clear that there would be no legislation eliminating bonjour/hi after you had opened the door to it? You saw the reaction of ridicule from francophone citizens and media alike. Even the PQ language critic said these kind of ideas are unenforceable and even if they were, how people speak should not be controlled in a free society. Are you not reading from the same playbook?
Former Liberal Finance Minister and now finance critic Carlos Leitão - himself an immigrant from Portugal - put it very well when he asked whether government workers will start asking people for a secret handshake that will identify people as a “real Anglo.” He said the policy shows there is a disconnect between Jolin-Barrette and the real world. “He doesn’t have a clue what the reality of an immigrant family is in the 21st century.”
Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said the policy was “reprehensible” because the government is trying to divide people by creating this “historical Anglo community. I think the creation of classes of citizens carries the potential for an equality challenge, as well as a freedom of expression challenge.” He characterized Jolin-Barrette’s suggestion as almost driven by spite saying, “I’d like to know how it protects French to tell somebody you can’t have your services in English.”
Premier Legault, M.Jolin-Barrette is disconnected and threatens to do damage to a province that is finally starting to see some economic advancement. It might be time to show him the door because you cannot risk a third embarrassment with this Minister.