MONTREAL -- Issues surrounding the vitality of the French language, especially in Montreal, have prompted many to suggest that French Language Charter (Bill 101) provisions for the language of instruction be extended to the province’s CEGEPs.

The proposal itself is debatable, but one can only be pleased with this willingness to react to ensure the future of French in Quebec.

The facts are clear and call for a vigorous response.

One question remains, however: What constitutes judicious, effective action?

One may be tempted to present simple solutions to complex problems. Imposing “Bill 101” in CEGEPs is no doubt an example of this type of approach, and it implies that CEGEPs are part of the problem.

That is not the case, however. CEGEPs are, in fact, part of the solution: every one of them—including anglophone CEGEPs—is willing to contribute to the collective effort to ensure the vitality of French in Quebec.

It’s important to remember that Anglophone colleges are full participants in Quebec society and play a role in French-language skills acquisition within English-speaking communities. They help ensure access to higher education, support the vitality of these communities and help build a culture of dialogue.

We should also keep in mind that CEGEPs play a fundamental role in the francization of immigrants in Quebec’s regions and enable their civic integration into Quebec society, in French.

Another factor to bear in mind: in accordance with the Charter of the French Language, government must take action on several fronts, including the language of work, the language used by the public service, the language of commerce and in signs and posters.

The Charter has, over the years, created a false sense of security among Quebecers despite the attacks that have undermined it. Many consider the chapter dealing with language of instruction, from preschool to the primary and secondary levels, to be the most revolutionary section of the act.

Far be it from us to call this measure and its relevance into question, but will the problem be solved by further constraining young adults who choose to pursue higher education? And how would this impact the vitality of the French language?

Wouldn’t it also help create a false sense of linguistic security by avoiding the fundamental issue: the language of work and the excessive requirements that some of our young people feel are imposed on them?

Our actions should be targeting a different goal: ensuring the unquestioned status of French as the common language in Quebec and its prestige with respect to English, so it can be the factor of social cohesion that enables bridge-building and an intercultural dialogue in a proudly diverse society.

These actions should target multiple fronts, primarily culture and the language of work. While young people wish to pursue their studies in English due to job market-related factors, in a climate of intensifying linguistic requirements, we need to remember that language is one of the keys enabling participation in the unique culture Quebec has developed over centuries.

Superficial reassurances, through provisions that will never foster Quebecers’ ambition and nurture their pride in defining themselves as a Francophone people, must therefore give way to a restored affinity for this language and culture throughout the population.

CEGEPs can be key players in efforts to restore the standing of French in Quebec through its culture. As places of both learning and dissemination of culture, they can contribute even more to this promotional role.

We propose the implementation of a large campaign to promote Quebec culture, which would in turn help strengthen the French language as a powerful symbol of a shared sense of belonging. We are ready to implement—in all public colleges, including anglophone CEGEPs—an intensive roll-out of educational and cultural activities that promote French, with the spotlight on Quebec works and artists.

This approach would reposition the French language as the expression of a unique, living, attractive, open culture.

In conclusion, one would hope that this fundamental debate for Quebec’s future moves beyond the adoption of simplistic solutions while burying questions that call for a collective response with a view to sustainable action. We truly need a unifying approach that rallies people around our common language—the very core of our culture and identity. 

Bernard Tremblay, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fédération des cégeps