MNA Greg Kelley tables bill to give all Quebecers access to free French lessons
QUEBEC CITY -- Liberal MNA Greg Kelley wants all Quebecers to have access to French lessons for free.
The MNA in the West Island riding of Jacques-Cartier tabled the bill at the National Assembly Wednesday – and it seems to have initial support.
The motive behind the bill is simple, said Kelley; improving French skills for everyone living in Quebec, including anglophones, immigrants and even francophones who want to improve their French skills.
"Let's not just look at the bill, let's adopt it," he said before the National Assembly. "That would be a very good first step to sending a clear signal that everyone in this House believes strongly that we need to not just know the French language, but master it, to provide us opportunities on the job market and make sure that everyone can thrive in this province."
Kelley later told CTV News Quebecers wanted improved access to French language training.
"I think there's a way we can have a discussion around language that involves how we can speak the language better, how we can write the language better, and that will help a lot of people in this province achieve a better employment, achieve better integration into their community and just feel more at home," he said.
The proposed courses would be voluntary, he said, but flexible.
WATCH: Greg Kelley tables bills, Skeete and Legault react
Technically, Bill 590 is an act to amend the Charter of the French Language, Bill 101, to establish free French-language instruction services for every person who resides in the province.
"The government will help you be part of this Quebec. I think that's one of the key messages I'm trying to send with this bill," said Kelley. "We all not just value French, we want French, to succeed and thrive, and I think that this right would be a starting point to creating a positive discussion about how we can all unite around the French language."
The bill comes one week after a study revealed the proportion of mother-tongue English speakers in Quebec's civil service hasn't increased since the 1970s.
For more than 20 years, Youth Employment Services (YES) has been helping English job seekers in Quebec. The new generation of Quebecers looking for work is bilingual, according to Aki Tchitacov, Executive Director of YES.
"But are you bilingual enough to apply for a job with Quebec public service? Or Hydro Quebec? Or the Caisse-de-Depot?" he said.
Tchitacov welcomed the news that French courses could be free for all Quebecers--a move which would make them more accessible, he said.
"I think that is one issue that the communities can rally around, and of course, it's in the interest of our economy that we do so," he said.
Recruiter Simon St-Armand agreed that French courses were a good idea, but said French speakers would benefit from English courses as well.
"It happens both ways. [French-only] speakers can sometimes be stuck in the same position because they don't speak English to go to a higher-level position," he said.
In a rare display of agreement, one by one, MNAs in the National Assembly stood up in a show of support for the bill.
CAQ MNA Christopher Skeete, the government's point-man on anglophone affairs, says he supports the bill but adds it isn't a new idea because his government has been working with the English community. He says increasing access to French classes has come up.
"The biggest concern I had was: are people going to think we're trying to assimilate the English community, right? So, I actually wanted to speak with various groups before proposing the idea and the feedback was positive, so it's something I've had in my repertoire of things I might do later on," said Skeete. "The reason why we're doing those consultations is that so we can come up with a plan. It's ironic that people who tell us to have a plan, when we want to come up with something, are telling us before the consultations are finished."
MNA Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language, and Premier François Legault also stated Wednesday that the government is open to the bill.
"I'm very open, because Christopher Skeete met for a year with many anglophone groups all through Quebec. The main suggestion that was coming up, again and again, was to make sure that French lessons were offered to anglophones and not just to immigrants, so we're really looking at that," said Legault. "It makes sense."
Now that it has been tabled, the bill needs to be adopted; that's unlikely to happen before 2020 since the House breaks for the holidays on Friday.