Last week Premier Legault stated that an expansion of Bill 101 was coming and that since he understands that elements may violate the Canadian constitution he may use the notwithstanding clause to enforce it. In a time of pandemic and fear it is unconscionable, divisive and even if nothing more than political pandering to CAQ nationalists unnecessary. The proposals that have been suggested will also burden business and kill aspirations of young people. And it was staggering that at a time of financial need for so many people suffering from want and illness, the Legault administration authorized an additional $17 million for the OQLF on top of the $105 million announced just weeks ago.
Among the matters under consideration is extending 101’s application to small businesses of 25-49 employees. Currently the language law applies to businesses of 50 or more employees for the internal conduct of written matters and communications. Also rumoured is that certain provisions of the law will be applied to education, specifically to English CEGEPs. French students will be restricted in going to English CEGEPs and English CEGEPs will have to initiate a certain number of courses in French. Furthermore, more inspectors will supervise the language of service in retail outlets.
The most damning aspects that have been mentioned in this expansion is that he intends to make Bill 101 applicable to federal jurisdictions including banks, insurance and media. That is the chief reason for the Premier bringing up he Notwithstanding Clause. That would be combined with a decrease in English services from government departments.
All this because the government is dredging up the old saw that French is in decline because a new study showed a 2% drop in French as the first language in homes. Hardly a threat. It’s called immigration. And in spite of a Chambre de Commerce study that demonstrates that 94% of shoppers in downtown Montreal are served in French, Minister for the French Language Jolin-Barrette dragged that issue out again too. Premier Legault should have known better.
If Covid and Mayor Plante’s traffic mayhem aren’t enough to kill business revival in Montreal this is sure to do it. And it is so patently obvious that it is nothing but a ploy to solidify nationalist votes after the PQ started harping on this issue after the language-at-home report came out. The inexplicable matter is that Premier Legault has — at 72% among Francophones — the highest approval ratings of any Premier in recent history. He doesn’t have to pander to anyone.
There is a long history in Quebec among all parties in the past forty years of appealing to the lowest common denominator and sowing division and discord as political playbook strategy. In 2019, the Legault government made the obscene suggestion to take away English services from immigrants while maintaining them only for the “historic anglophone community.” It was a new low in nationalist pandering, prejudice and outright illegality. And it is still on the table. We expect more from a Premier who promised to put separatism, ethno-nationalism away and be the “business premier governing for all Quebecers” as he told The Suburban in a meeting in our offices with our editorial board.
Revenue Quebec can’t be too happy with this as its bureaucrats will have to 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. The proposal goes so far as to discuss taking away the right of service in English to anyone who did not go to English schools. The aim is to use Bill 101 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.
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?
Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey called these proposals “reprehensible” when they first came to light 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 the 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.”
Mr. Premier, you have a chance to save our distinct society. Our distinctiveness lies is in the example to the world of cultures living in mutual respect. If you go forward with these proposals you will destroy any chance for the very legacy you wanted.