MONTREAL -- Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Thursday that he doesn't believe capping spaces at English CEGEPs in the province will penalize French or English students, as the government prepares to table a bill strengthening Bill 101.

At a news briefing, Legault confirmed media reports that the CAQ government is considering putting a cap on the number of spots available at English CEGEPs.

Legault said that he understands some French-speaking CEGEP students would like to attend English colleges, but that French is "fragile" in the province.

"We have to reinforce Bill 101, and that's why we'll table a bill soon," he said in a news conference, adding that he didn't feel capping the number of spaces for English-speaking students would cause anglophones to miss out on a spot at college.

"There are many places for the anglophones in the anglophone CEGEPs," he said.

The proposed bill is in response to concerns about the number of francophone students opting to study in English, once they finish high school. The govenment said that putting a limit on the number of spaces would be an alternative to formally applying Bill 101 to CEGEPs and completely restricting access.

The premier still wants students to have freedom of choice when it comes to which language they want to study in at the CEGEP level.

Minister Responsible for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette is working on the new laws.

Legault added that he had hoped to table a bill soon, but the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination campaign have occupied the government's attention.

"We need a debate, so we want to find the right time," he said. "I hope by the end of this session that we'll be able to table the bill."


Opposition parties said they're losing patience with Jolin-Barrette's timelines for beefing up Bill 101.

"We haven't seen any bill. He's been talking about this for months now. We haven't seen anything," said Liberal leader Dominique Anglade. 

It isn't just about language, said Quebec solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

"French in Quebec is not only a language, French is an integral part of our identity, of our collective culture. We need to take of it," he said. 

The Parti quebecois says the CAQ is taking too long to act, so it's planning to table a bill of its own.

"You'll see we have a plan that we are going to announce because we think that we are in a better place to make some recommendations for the government," said PQ MNA Meganne Perry Melancon.

Anglade said French must be protected, but she doesn't want English-speaking Quebecers to feel targeted. 

"That is the last thing we want, is for anglophones to feel that the whole thing is being considered against the anglophone community, because I think we need to do all these changes with the anglophone community. Because the anglophone community, it's not like some element outside of quebec. They're part of the solution, they're part of the process," she said. 


Representatives from English institutions in Quebec were quick to react to any talk of restricting enrolment in CEGEPs.

"I don't think that it's good at all." said Sarah Mazhero, academic and advocacy coordinator of the student union at Montreal's Concordia University. "Students should have the flexibility to choose where they would like to go to school without having that added pressure of limited capacity."

Mazhero said limiting enrolment would also limit academic freedom.

"CEGEP is such a great transition to go into and having that flexibility to actually choose like your academic freedom of where you'd want to go."

Enrolling in higher education at an English institution is not going to cause a decline of the French language in Quebec, said Kevin Contant-Holowatyj, chair of the student union at Dawson College.

"Francophones that have studied their whole lives in French, from elementary to up to high school and then suddenly decide to go to, for example, Dawson in English, won't make them completely anglophone," he said.

"They're still going to speak French, obviously, their friends, their family are francophone. So it's not going to stop them from using the French language, what is actually going to happen as you stated, it's going to allow them to be more competitive on the market, it's going to allow them to even help Quebec look good on the international stage."

LISTEN TO CJAD 800 RADIO: Is Legault trying to tell adults where they can go to school? What happened to "academic freedom"? Political analyst Tom Mulcair weighs in

- With files from CTV News Montreal's Gabrielle Fahmy and Maya Johnson