Here we go again. A recent survey of Montreal’s businesses demonstrated that some 60% either required a proficiency in English or suggested it would be a benefit for certain positions. It didn’t take long for the French panic propagators to start the drumrolls of division and discord.
The Legault administration felt compelled to respond. And the Minister responsible for the French language Simon Jolin-Barrette came out with a doozy. He said that the government would look at expanding the reach of 101 to businesses in federal jurisdictions including banking, transportation and media. The government shouldn’t even think about it. If it does, a war on language will destroy any chance of real recovery for Quebec in the same way Mayor Plante is destroying Montreal with her war on cars. In addition to the fact that it would be unconstitutional and unenforceable.
Premier Legault said brave words prior to his election. He said he would not raise the separatist sceptre. He said he wanted his legacy to be as the business premier because Quebec existing on 65% of total transfer payments was “unsustainable.” And he said that he would not reopen Bill 101. Among the places he made these commitments was The Suburban’s boardroom. If he wants to wipe out any chance to meet his goals, let him reopen 101. Quebec’s economy will be done.
Even the PQ has questioned how this could even be thought of. Leader Pascal Bérubé asked, “How could Quebec ever enforce this? We are still a province and the Canadian Constitution does not allow for interference with the split authorities of federal and provincial powers.” How indeed. But the point is that Minister Jolin-Barrette tends to do things that irritate. He is young and not the most diplomatic Ministers in the cabinet.
Some observers suggest that the reason the Legault administration allowed this idea to be floated is precisely because it is unenforceable. That it will craft together a task force or roving commission to demonstrate to the nationalists that it is doing something, and then hope that it will all be forgotten amongst more pressing matters. But the point is Premier Legault knows better. He wants the world to come her to do business? We better speak in the lingua franca of the world of business. That language is English. No company will come here if it is forced to communicate only in French internally and with the government. And Legault knows that.
Jolin-Barrette is another matter. Legault comes from the world of business. Jolin-Barrette, in his early thirties, has spent his life in academia and politics. And this is not the first time that this Minister has forced Premier Legault to rein him in. Just last October we saw yet another resurrection of the “Bonjour/Hi” debate. Premier Legault had to step in and announce that there would be no legislation on this matter. It was better late than never, but that episode should never have been allowed to go that far.
What lit the spark were Jolin-Barrette’s words that, “all options were on the table” to rid Quebec of the dreaded phrase. There was even a rumour that Premier Legault actually dressed down his Minister in private for opening a door that led to speculation that the CAQ government might actually be considering legislation.
But what was interesting — and heartening for the maturity of our public discourse — was the reaction in the public square. Even PQ language critic Paul Arsenau said he, “can’t imagine legislation. You can’t stop people from saying what they want. The government should encourage and persuade but not legislate.” The reaction from French media was just as candid and just as denunciatory. They didn’t want a replay of Pastagate that made Quebec a laughing stock around the world.
Let us remember that the OQLF’s own figures released in the fall of 2018 demonstrated that 95% of all people questioned were able to get themselves properly served in French. What are the extremists aiming for? The statistically unattainable one hundred per cent?
This is all about the never-ending demonization of all non-Francophones. This is about the never-ending exploitation of fabricated Francophone fears. This is about the never-ending paralysis of Quebec stuck in continuing culture war with politicians always appealing to the lowest common denominator. This is bad stuff. Premier Legault, we hope you recognize that.