Legault has to fire

He’s at it again. Minister Responsible for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette threw another grenade into the language arms stockpile last week. In a press conference he disclosed that in the New Year he will be presenting a bill to expand Bill 101.

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 was that certain provisions of the law will be applied to education, specifically to English CEGEPs. Furthermore, that 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 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, Jolin-Barrette dragged that issue out again too. Premier Legault must know 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.

But the reason Jolin-Barrette has to go is that he has a history of appealing to the lowest common denominator and sowing division and discord as political playbook strategy. Just last year, at this same time, he 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 someone with a background in Constitutional Law and we expect better from the CAQ which under Premier Legault promised to be the “business government” and governing for all Quebecers.

Revenue Quebec can’t be too happy with Jolin-Barrette 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. Jolin-Barrette has proposed 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.

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 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.”

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. Premier Legault, save our distinct society. Our distinctiveness lies is in the example to the world of cultures living in mutual respect. It is time for you to let this Minister go.

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