In a rare move Premier Philippe Couillard spoke English in the National Assembly on Thursday to respond to the backlash stemming from a symbolic motion.
Couillard said that MNAs seriously underestimated the effects the motion would have on Quebecers and so the premier stepped in with an attempt to smooth ruffled feathers.
"I also want to say, Mr. Speaker, to our English-speaking fellow Quebecers again, there are no different classes of Quebecer here. Only one class, that's first-class. And English-speaking Quebecers are first-class Quebecers like all of us are. I also want to say and tell them that the English language, although French is our official language, the English language is not a foreign language in Quebec," said Couillard.
Parti Quebecois leader Jean-Francois Lisée said on Thursday that the entire motion was designed to make the Liberals look foolish.
"I set the oldest trap in the book," Lisée said.
"I simply showed, (for) everyone to see, that when they pretend to further French, it's a facade. So I think I rendered a service to everyone, in French and English Canada to say, 'Look at these guys. They don't really mean it.'"
Following Question Period the MNA for the D'Arcy McGee riding which covers Outremont, the Town of Mount Royal, and part of the city of Montreal, repeated what he has told many constituents: the motion has no legal weight and shopkeepers can greet their customers in English.
"Yes, I think our government understands that merchants will use their own good judgment," said Birnbaum.
Many people have openly wondered why politicians have spent time debating a motion that has no real effect in law.
"I think the point of that motion was neutralizing a nasty and mean-spirited effort by the Parti Quebecois to create a linguistic crisis and we did some jiu-jitsu on it and tried to find a way to make sure that we underlined a reality that French is the common language in Quebec, but that Quebecers on the ground ils ont un bon gros sens to know how to get along and do better and I think the premier underlined that this morning," said Birnbaum.
Last week the Parti Quebecois introduced the motion that initially called the greeting "bonjour-hi" an "irritant" and calling on merchants to simply say "bonjour."
The Liberals objected to the notion that the word "hi" is irritating and the motion was amended to drop that phrase, something Couillard mentioned again on Thursday.
"We adopted, the other day, this motion. We know that we heavily modified it by removing the word 'irritant.' I believe that we underestimated the impact that this would have among our English-speaking countrymen," said Couillard.
"I don't want to debate this motion again, but wish to say that the motion bans nothing, that it does not diminish the equal and important place that the English language has for us at home in Quebec."
The final motion that was adopted unanimously by 111 members of the National Assembly makes no mention of anything except the word "bonjour."
Regardless the English community in Quebec has been outraged and so far every attempt to mitigate the anger has made things worse.
Over the past week several English-speaking MNAs, including the Minister for English-speaking communities, Kathleen Weil, have said the motion was misunderstood.
While some people mistakenly believed the motion banned the use of the word "hi" -- it does not -- many have found Weil's explanations condescending and disconnected.
The motion passed by the National Assembly
Whereas the National Assembly clearly reaffirms to all that French is the official and common language of Quebec;
Whereas we note that 94 percent of Quebec residents understand French;
Whereas we note that the word" Bonjour "is one of the most well-known words of the French language among non-French speakers in the world;
Whereas this word is a wonderful expression of Quebec conviviality;
Therefore, we invite all merchants and employees who are in contact with local and international customers to warmly welcome them with the word Bonjour.