MONTREAL -- The minister responsible for the French language in Quebec has announced phase one of a plan to strengthen the French language in the province.

Quebec will open three new Office quebecois de la langue française (OQLF) offices, hire dozens of new employees and create a French-language accompaniment program to help certain businesses conform to Quebec’s language law, said Simon-Jolin Barrette in a Monday morning news conference.

“We have to be very clear. French is the common language and we need to give the resources to the OQLF to make sure the law is enforced and respected,” said Jolin-Barrette.

Jolin-Barrette referred to the findings of an OQLF study released in August indicating 63 per cent of businesses in Montreal want employees to be able to speak English, saying it shows the French language is losing ground, especially in Montreal.

To achieve his initial goals, Quebec will add $5 million to the OQLF’s budget in the short-term, though Jolin-Barrette said the finance minister has allocated a total of $10 million to the French-language project.

When asked, Jolin-Barrette tried to address potential concerns of the English-speaking community.

He said the desire to strengthen the French language in Quebec “is not against English institutions,” and that “we can do both -- respect English institutions but also respect French in our society."

Here’s what phase one involves:

  • three new regional OQLF offices will be opened in Laval, Drummondville and Longueuil, for a total of 11 locations around the province
  • 50 new jobs will be created, among them: 20 at a new French language accompaniment service for businesses, 17 offering francization help to businesses with more than 50 employees, four new inspectors, seven surveillance advisors

A voluntary French-language accompaniment service will be established to cater to businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

OQLF employees in that department would provide - if requested by a small company or business - help evaluating their ability to offer service and products in conformity with the Charter of the French language, and would receive support improving their use of French if deemed necessary.

Jolin-Barette said he is preoccupied with the language concerns related to smaller businesses, because 70 per cent of complaints received by the OQLF are about the rights of the population to work in French and for customers to be served in French - complaints that particularly target business environments in Montreal.

The workforce at the OQLF has not been beefed up since the 90s, acccording to the language minister, despite the fact the number of businesses requiring francization support has doubled since the year 2000.