Bilingual municipalities call for 'balance and 'respect' ahead of Quebec language reform
MONTREAL -- A group of suburban municipalities with bilingual status is calling for ‘balance’ and ‘respect’ ahead of major language reform set to be tabled in Quebec Thursday.
The Association of Suburban Municipalities, representing 13 of the 15 municipalities with bilingual status on the island of Montreal, issued a news release Wednesday afternoon, calling for the status to be maintained, even where demographics have changed.
“For us, balance means strengthening the French language without taking away the rights of citizens in bilingual municipalities," said Beny Masella, mayor of Montreal West and head of the association.
“We fully support the social and political consensus in favour of protecting and strengthening the status of the French language in Quebec. At the same time, we are committed to protecting the gains that are important to the citizens of our municipalities,” the news release read.
There are roughly 90 municipalities in Quebec that have this status, granted if more than half their population declares English as their first language. The status requires that municipality make all signage and public information available in both French and English. There is some concern that status could change with the language reform bill.
Rosemere Mayor Eric Westram said he is concerned.
“I think that the bilingual status doesn't put in jeopardy the French language in Rosemere. We translate everything, yes. In my public meetings I always include a bit of English, it’s not fully translated. I think it’s about 80 to 20 per cent: 80 percent French and 20 per cent English,” he said.
“We have social peace in Rosemere. People have accepted the fact that we live in a community and its richness is its status.”
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During a parliamentary commission last week, the Parti Quebecois raised the issue of revoking the bilingual status of certain municipalities that do not have a majority anglophone population.
It’s cause for concern in the English community, because it allows people to receive services in their first language.
Speaking Wednesday morning, PQ MNA Sylvain Gaudrault said the party believes Quebec needs to act on this measure.
“We can't accept that 12 per cent of the people in a municipality speak English and this municipality has a bilingual status. So, we have to modernize the Bill 101 about that,” he said.
The Liberal Party, though, is taking a different approach, and wants to ensure French is protected, as well as the rights of anglophone Quebecers.
“What we want to make sure is that they don't infringe on the services given to the anglophone community. The reason that we didn't put it in our own proposition is because we don't think this is a proposition that can have a maximum impact on protection of the French language,” said Liberal MNA Andre Fortin.
Quebec Solidaire said it's expected municipalities would have bilingual status, but co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said he wants to see the entire bill before commenting.
“It's very difficult to have a radical opinion on measures that is extracted from a bill that we don't know,” he said in Quebec City Wednesday.
Marlene Jennings, head of the Quebec Community Groups Network, or QCGN, said she finds it "very interesting" the bilingual status for some municipalitiescould change, given the CAQ's stance, historically speaking.
"In 2013, the Parti Quebecois, the government tried to do it, and… the CAQ, was firmly against it, stating that the bilingual status that these municipalities had was permanent, and that only the municipalities themselves could ask for a change in designation, that it could not change and designation could not be imposed by the government,” she said.
- This is a developing story and will be updated