Quebec Liberals offer their 'mea culpa' on Bill 96 CEGEP amendment as premier mulls removing clause
The Quebec Liberal Party appears to be caught in the middle of a language firestorm over an amendment to Bill 96 it proposed and is now trying to withdraw.
When the Liberals first proposed their amendment to the new language bill back in February, even the CAQ minister in charge of the file, Simon Jolin-Barrette, seemed surprised.
The CAQ had planned to exempt anglophones from taking three core CEGEP courses in French, but Hélène David, the Official Opposition Critic for Higher Education, suggested the law go further.
The Liberals said all students should have that requirement and all parties voted for that, with Liberal MNA David Birnbaum saying the party was proud of it.
But now, a major about-face.
"We made a mea culpa to the community. The result of the amendment far exceeds what we were expecting at the time," said Liberal MNA Andre Fortin.
Leader Dominique Anglade says her party should have consulted the CEGEPs and she realizes it would come at a major cost to English students.
"We don’t want to have people that fail. We don’t want to have students that fail," she said Tuesday in Quebec City.
On Wednesday, Jolin-Barrette said he is taking noting of the Liberals' demands, but is sticking with the amendment nonetheless.
"I think that’s a good amendment," he said. "It’s really important that French class, French courses, will be followed by all Quebecers. The common language. We have to give the tools to all Quebecers to be able to work and live their life and to be well integrated in Quebec."
LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: What the director general of Vanier College has to say about the recent developments surrounding Bill 96
ANGLADE: 'ALL THE CONSULTATIONS DID NOT HAPPEN'
In an interview with CTV News, the Liberal leader said it had proposed the French-course requirement back when "there was no bill originally on the table" and that it was done in "good faith.
"Leadership is about listening to people and realizing that this is not going to be applicable, and seeing it, and now we're sending the ball in the court of the CAQ so they can actually make the amendment that is required," Anglade said.
When asked by CTV, Anglade did not admit her party made a mistake, only saying that "we have to recognize that all the consultations did not happen."
"When you realize that something is not applicable, not only do you say it, but you bring up proposals to make the changes and that's what we've been saying and that's the message that we send to the CAQ."
The federation of CEGEPs said it was shocked when it first heard the Liberals propose their amendment.
Bernard Tremblay, director-general of the Federation of CEGEPs, said they knew the amendment was going to be problematic.
"There’s another level of French that is needed if you want to enter a course of higher education in, let's say, anatomy, or physics, or mathematics."
Now, the Liberals are asking the CAQ to reverse course and drop the amendment.
PREMIER TO LOOK INTO REQUEST
Asked about the request on Tuesday, the premier told reporters that his government will look into it.
"We have to discuss with the two other parties also what do we think about that," Premier François Legault said.
But already the Parti Québécois and Québec solidaire said the amendment should stand.
"That's a circus. It's unbelievable that the Liberals ask ourselves to protect [them] from themselves," said PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé.
"Who brought those amendments to the table? The Liberals. Who wants to backtrack? The Liberals."
But for some, the damage is already done.
"Too little too late," said Colin Standish, the Eastern Townships language activist who founded the Task Force on Linguistic Policy last year.
"This is an egregious amendment that they actually proposed."
Standish, a spokesperson for the newly formed Exploratory Committee on Political Options, is considering forming a new party because he’s unhappy with the Quebec Liberals.
"Policy change day-to-day with the PLQ. I don’t know where they’ll be tomorrow on [Bill] 96 and I don’t think they know either," he said.
It’s all shaping up to be a key issue for the English community heading into the fall election.