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French-language signage: American businesses must 'adapt,' says Rodriguez

Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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Faced with Washington's grumblings about proposed regulations for commercial signage in Quebec, Justin Trudeau's Quebec lieutenant, Pablo Rodriguez, said Americans just need to "adapt."

"Americans, when they go to Mexico, they're going to post in Spanish. When they go to Argentina, they're going to post in Spanish. When they go around the world, they adapt," Rodriguez said Wednesday as he arrived at the Liberal caucus meeting. "They can adapt. Here, let them adapt in French."

In his view, "anyone who wants to come here" to do business must "understand that it's done in French."

Rodriguez was reacting to a letter sent by the Bloc Québécois leader to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which he announced a visit to Washington in March.

In the letter shared with the media on Wednesday, Yves-François Blanchet noted that American companies are adopting the "language of work or daily life" used in the various "markets" around the world where they do business.

"We believe the same should be true in Quebec," he summarized.

In a press scrum, Rodriguez said "first of all" that the Bloc leader "is not Quebec's ambassador in Washington, nor Canada's ambassador."

"And secondly, I would remind him that not only are there more Liberal MPs than Bloc Québécois, there were more votes for Liberal MPs than Bloc Québécois, and that we Quebecers in the Liberal Party of Canada can very well speak on behalf of Quebec, defending Quebec's interests," he continued.

Moments later, his colleague Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada "is a sovereign country" and that it passes laws in its own interests.

"If it's the will of society to move forward in that direction, it's understandable. I think people respect that. People understand that we need to defend the French fact in Quebec and in Canada," he said,

Speaking in the House of Commons foyer Wednesday afternoon, Blanchet said he was "quite happy" with the Liberal position on signage. But, visibly stung, he added that Rodriguez "could have stopped there."

"The last thing I want is to be an ambassador for Canada. I'm not an ambassador for Quebec either," he said. "As for speaking for francophones [...] I invite him to go take a look at voting intentions among francophones in Quebec."

The Joe Biden administration revealed concerns last week about the sign regulations' "potential consequences for American businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises."

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not specify the concerns and did not respond to questions sent to The Canadian Press a week ago.

Quebec businesses have until June 1, 2025 to ensure that French occupies "twice as much" space on their signs, according to a draft regulation published Jan. 10.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 31, 2024.  

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