Quebec presents new language reform bill set to strengthen use of French
MONTREAL -- The Quebec government presented a major reform to language laws Thursday morning, aiming to strengthen the use of French in the province with changes for businesses, CEGEP students, newcomers and others.
Bill 96, called "An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec," was tabled at 10 a.m. in the National Assembly by Simon Jolin-Barrette, the province's minister responsible for languages.
“This bill affirms that the only official language in Quebec is French," he said as he tabled the bill.
"It also affirms that French is the common language of the Quebec nation."
He called it a “long-awaited and necessary bill” to strengthen French, adding that “it is time that this be reflected in all spheres of society. The French language is the soul of our nation, and when it advances, all of Quebec becomes stronger.”
Jolin-Barrette was met with boisterous applause after presenting the bill.
If passed, the 100-page bill would, among other things, create a Ministry of the French language as well as a French Language Commissioner, appointed by the National Assembly.
The Charter of the French Language, commonly known as Bill 101, was sponsored by Camille Laurin in the government of René Lévesque, and adopted amidst controversy in 1977. It required, among other things, that the children of immigrants had to attend French schools.
With this bill, the Charter of the French Language becomes a 'fundamental' law, enshrined in the Canadian Constitution, with French being the only official language and the common language of Quebec.
CHANGES FOR BUSINESSES
The bill would also extend the French certification process for businesses with between 25 and 49 employees. The government would give affected businesses a three-year grace period to adjust.
It would require invoices and other “commercial publications” to be in French if they are in another language and would demand that businesses serve customers in French.
There are more rules coming down for businesses with respect to signage. They will have to ensure their outdoor signage has “clearly predominant” French text "when a trademark appears in a language other than French."
The Language Commissioner would investigate complaints about the application of the new language laws. Jolin-Barrette said the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) will handle complaints if a person can't get services in French at a store.
"So, you will be able to call the OQLF and say, 'I cannot have my right to be served in French'... the OQLF will call the store and help the store to make change inside the organization," he said later Thursday at a news conference.
The language minister was joined by Premier Francois Legault, who said he wanted to assure English speakers that their rights are not being hindered.
"It's nothing against the English Quebecers -- it's about protecting French," he said.
"All the rights of the English Quebecers will be protected, so they will still have the right to receive services and education and health care."
TOWNS WITH BILINGUAL STATUS
Municipalities where fewer than 50 per cent of residents are English speakers will lose their bilingual status; however, they can maintain that status if they adopt a resolution to that effect.
The Association of Suburban Municipalities, representing 13 of the 15 municipalities with bilingual status on the island of Montreal, issued a news release Wednesday afternoon calling for the status to be maintained, even in places where demographics have changed.
“For us, balance means strengthening the French language without taking away the rights of citizens in bilingual municipalities," said Beny Masella, mayor of Montreal West and head of the association, on Wednesday.
ENGLISH CEGEP SPOTS WOULD BE FROZEN
Other measures include making French the “standard language of study” for post-secondary education and put a freeze on the proportion of students in the English-language college system.
The government notes over the last 25 years, the number of students in French CEGEPs has been in sharp decline, while English CEGEPs have enjoyed a steady increase.
The CAQ is therefore proposing that the proportion of students attending school in English be frozen at 17.5 per cent for the 2019-2020 school year. English CEGEPs would thus only be allowed to admit an equal to or lower percentage of students in the future.
When total enrolment increases from the previous year, it would limit the potential for growth in the English-language system to a maximum of 8.7 per cent. That means that if enrolment increases by a total of 10,000 over the previous year, English-language CEGEPs would be limited to a maximum of 870 new spots.
The government says it also wants all students to pass a French-language test in order to receive their diplomas.
"Mastery of French is a skill of primary importance for full participation in Quebec society," the bill states.
"It is therefore proposed that a single standard test in French...be administered to all students at the end of their studies, regardless of the linguistic identity of the institution at which they are studying."
Those who attended elementary or secondary school in English and are enrolled in an English CEGEP would be exempt.
HEALTH AND SAFETY GOVERNMENT SERVICES REMAIN
To further reinforce French as the official language, the CAQ government aims to ensure French is the standard among the administration for written and oral communications with people and companies.
There are, however, certain exceptions to communicate in another language, such as English, for matter of health and safety.
Article 20.1 of the bill also requires government agencies to report on the number of positions that require a language other than French.
NEWCOMERS UNDER A MICROSCOPE
A trend that worries the provincial government is the rate at which newcomers arriving in Quebec don’t speak French. It noted that fewer than 50 per cent of immigrants who reported they knew French.
To this end, Bill 96 aims to make it a fundamental right for all people living in Quebec, including anglophones, to learn French. The government said it would “take measures to promote the use of French as a common language by all.”
Under provisions of the new charter, the French Language Commissioner will be tasked with monitoring the “knowledge, learning and use of French by immigrants.”
The reform to Bill 101 is one of the government's biggest portfolios, with the language minister announcing a $17-million investment last month to promote French in Quebec.
The bill will not be rushed through: the government said it wants to conduct a broad consultation on the subject in the fall.
LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: Opposition reaction to the CAQ’s proposed language reforms
See the bill here:
--With files from The Canadian Press.