D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum voted along with fellow Quebec Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the governing CAQ in encouraging Montreal merchants to drop the “Hi” in the now-traditional Bonjour-Hi greeting.
The vote, proposed by the PQ, came in advance of Grand Prix weekend, when numerous tourists, including many who do not speak French, visit Montreal.
Liberal MNAs Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley were not present for the symbolic vote. Weil told the media she stayed away after receiving numerous complaints from constituents after voting for the same motion in 2017.
Birnbaum provided an extensive explanation for his vote on Facebook. The MNA said the wording of the resolution was acceptable to him, and it passed unanimously in terms of all MNAs present in the Assembly.
“Here is why I chose to rise for the vote….verrrry slowly,” he wrote. “English-speaking Quebecers, whether they live in Snowdon, Sillery or Sherbrooke, have a stake in supporting the protection and promotion of the French language. We are allies, not enemies in that cause— it’s time that this be recognized by all parties, as it is by ours.”
Birnbaum also contended that the CAQ government “has failed to take the slightest concrete measure to truly strengthen the place of French in Quebec — by increasing spending, as our government did, on francisation programs for new immigrants, by supporting English school boards in their constant efforts to improve French-second language programs (the CAQ plans to abolish the board), and in calling for the inclusion of all Quebecers in the legitimate and necessary effort of French-language promotion.”
There was much reaction to Birnbaum’s vote.
Harold Staviss, who with CSL councillor Ruth Kovac has been lobbying businesses to put up bilingual signs and send out bilingual communications to consumers, was very displeased.
“Do our MNAs have nothing better to do?” he wrote on Facebook. “What a joke! Three cheers and kudos to Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley for standing up for those that elected them. At least two Liberals stood up for their constituents. But with all due respect to David Birnbaum and Jennifer Maccarone, you let us down big time. I urge you all to show both David and Jennifer your total disgust for what they did. E-mail them, call them, use social media.”
Kovac herself sent a note to Birnbaum, which she shared with The Suburban, announcing that she is withdrawing her Quebec Liberal Party membership as well as her seat on the D’Arcy McGee riding association.
“We have discussed this issue on more than one occasion,” she added. “As an MNA, in my opinion, you are elected by the people and responsible first to them, irrespective of parliamentary duties. The 2017 backlash should have guided your vote this time. This vote was a resolution, not legislation! It is the English and multi- ethnic population that elected you, not a small Francophone town in a rural area.”
Kovac also wrote that Bill 101 and the OQLF “have never been about promoting French, but pushing for a slow and painful death of anything English.
“Having worked in different businesses before becoming a councillor, we know that it is the language of the customer that is paramount. This was an opportunity where you could have easily risen slowly or quickly with true vigour and represented D’Arcy McGee.
“I suspect that I speak for many.”
Former Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen responded to Birnbaum on Facebook
“To be inclusive, forward looking and positive... sure,” he wrote. “To respect, promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversations between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.”
CSL council regular Toby Shulman wrote: “I am calling my MNA. He has lost my vote.”