In the face of multiculturalism, is it time to put Quebec's language debate to rest?
MONTREAL -- Arguments over language are nothing new in Quebec, but with a changing landscape that leans towards multiculturalism, some are asking if it might be time to put the debate to rest.
"Whenever I hear about it, I don't know who the target demographic is," said Jasmine Clarke, a second-generation Canadian born and raised in Montreal. "When these things come up, I find it's just so not based in reality."
Thursday, Quebec's language debate was once again thrown into the spotlight when the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) tabled an aggressive piece of legislation to reform Bill 101, Quebec's Charter of the French Language.
"OK, you want to strip people, say from going to English CEGEPs, but you're hindering their progress in the global market," she said. "They won't be bilingual, it'll be hard for them to find a job. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yeah, you'll have more French-speaking people, but they'll be limited. Why are we having this conversation still? I just find it so useless at this point."
The row has historically been one between francophones and anglophones, with the French insisting they must defend their language and culture, and English-speakers declaring they just want to hold onto their minority rights.
"It's an old white guy thing and I think they're just salty they lost against the English X amount of years ago," she said. "White people who think they are marginalized will self-victimize... If you feel you should defend your culture, shouldn't you instead defend the Indigenous cultures that you displaced?"
BETTER DISCUSSION, NOT NO DISCUSSION
Gregory Kelley, official opposition critic for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, agrees there's definitely a generational gap when it comes to issues of language.
"Sometimes, I think we kind of look at the language debate and say, 'why are we always trying to be so divisive?' As opposed to saying, 'hey, let's work on this together.'"
However, Kelley points out it's difficult to know when to shelve a debate, especially one that so many people still feel passionately about.
"I think, particularly for a lot of francophones, they want to make sure that their language and their culture is protected and thriving," he said. "I don't know when you can say a debate should be over."
Kelley says all he hopes for now is to be able to engage in a proper discussion about the bill, unlike when the CAQ invoked closure to force through highly-contested legislature like Bill 21, the religious symbols law, and Bill 40, which abolished the province's school boards.
"I hope that in the study of this bill, there are different faces around the table from different generations, from different groups to say, 'hey, I'm here to present what this community thinks needs to be changed in the bill to make it more inclusive,'" he said. "It's important that we make sure minority rights are protected ... that's why in the end, this debate is important for our generation, too."
Clarke says she wishes the provincial government would put its time and resources into more pressing issues; the pandemic, perhaps, or the precarious housing situation in Montreal.
"There are a lot of other things out there that are actually important right now," agreed Kelley. "If it is the housing crisis, if it's climate change, and I think we're still all on the same page that we would like the COVID pandemic to wind down and come to an end."
ENCOURAGING HEALTHY DEBATE
Bill 96, entitled An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec, promises to impose "new fundamental language rights."
"I think that there is a discussion to be had, but that discussion should not be based on stereotypes," said Marlene Jennings, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN). "We're still trotting out the woman who went to Eaton's or Simpson's back in the 60s and refused, just couldn't speak a word of French and she came from Westmount."
One of the changes in the bill will extending the French certification process for some businesses; another will reevaluate Quebec's bilingual municipalities and revoke status if necessary.
"The signal that Quebec is launching, saying that French is the normal language in Quebec, if you guys see different locally, then take it upon yourself to maintain it, if that’s what you guys want to do," said Christopher Skeete, parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.
Jennings points out Quebecers should stop seeing the language debate as a battle-to-the-end between francophones and anglophones.
"I think that having a discussion about how to go about promoting and protecting the French language is healthy," said Jennings. "QCGN and English-speaking minority communities have been strong defenders of the need to promote and protect the French language."