Pastagate forces head of OQLF to step down
Published Friday, March 8, 2013 11:37AM EST
Last Updated Friday, March 8, 2013 11:02PM EST
Pastagate has claimed another casualty: the head of the Office Quebecois de la langue francaise has resigned.
Language Minister Diane De Courcy announced on Friday that OQLF head Louise Marchand will step down after two years as head of the government agency.The OQLF has been in hot water for several weeks after a restaurateur went public with fines being lodged against him for using the word 'pasta,' among others, on his menu.
The owner of Buonanotte, Massimo Lecas, said he was fined several thousand dollars for having a menu liberally sprinkled with Italian words as section headings and titles for food, even though every item on the menu was described in French.
After a public uproar De Courcy said the OQLF agent who had issued the fines was "overzealous", even though each infraction was a clear violation of the law as written.
However within days many companies across the province came forward with their stories of dealing with the agency over a multitude of issues involving languages other than French appearing on signs, posters, menus and answering machine messages, demonstrating that a strict interpretation of the law was the normal operating procedure for the ageny.
A week later the OQLF sent Lecas a letter saying the case against Buonanotte's menu had been dropped,
De Courcy said the international outcry was not a proud moment for Quebec.
"These episodes had an undesired effect on the businesses, the Office personnel, the public, and Quebec in general," said De Courcy.
Marchand was leader for two years
Over the past two years OQLF, under Marchand's leadership, has also challenged companies to use more French, going so far as to order multinational companies to add French descriptors to their signs.
The law as written grants exemptions to international trademarks, and as a result several companies took the agency to court, arguing that being ordered to alter their signs was not only against the law, but would also weaken their brand.
When that campaign was launched the OQLF said it was willing to help companies adopt a French face to preserve Quebec's culture.
In 2012, the agency expressed its displeasure over the rise of the bilingual, yet legal, greeting from store clerks of "Bonjour, hello."
At that time Marchand said she was upset that only 57 percent of Francophones asked for service in French if a clerk said anything in English, saying "It's important for citizens to take the language issue seriously."
OQLF needs 'cultural shift'
The Language minister now says the OQLF has to be modernized and must undergo a cultural shift, and apply the language laws in the spirit they were written -- something that will not be done with Marchand at the helm.
"The vigorous application of the law doesn't mean the law has to be applied rigidly," said De Courcy.
The Language minister said some of the laws and rules in the Charter need to be changed, and that fresh guidelines for inspectors will be drawn up.
She also said that the province will create a new body that will act as a mediator between companies and the OQLF, so companies can figure out exactly how they infringed upon language legislation, and what can be done to correct it, in a non-confrontational manner.
--with a report from Tania Krywiak.