QUEBEC CITY -- The future of the French language in Quebec will be the subject of much discussion from Sept. 21 to Oct. 7, during the major consultation phase on Bill 96, the long-awaited reform of Bill 101.

During the nine days of hearings, 52 individuals and organizations concerned about French will come to the National Assembly to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the vast linguistic reform proposed last May by the minister responsible for the file, Simon Jolin-Barrette, and to try to convince him to amend it, if necessary.

Testimonies will essentially be divided into two camps: those who feel the bill does not go far enough to ensure the survival of French throughout the province and others who will ask the minister to soften the edges.

Among the prominent figures invited to participate in the exercise is University de Montreal professor emeritus Guy Rocher, one of the architects of the Charter of the French Language (colloquially known as Bill 101) in 1977, in the first PQ government of René Lévesque.

Rocher who is now 97 will appear before the committee on Sept. 28. In the recent past, he has expressed great admiration for Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, and has wished Simon Jolin-Barrette to follow in his footsteps by showing courage. He spoke in favour of the controversial idea of extending Bill 101 to CEGEP, an avenue that the minister did not pursue.

A few former PQ members will express their point of view on the reform, including former minister Louise Beaudoin, who said in May that Bill 96 was "far from Camille Laurin, his audacity and his courage."

She nevertheless considers several measures interesting, such as the exemplary role that the state will have to play, the recognized right to learn French and the extension of francization to businesses with between 25 and 49 employees.

Another former PQ member, actor and former Borduas MNA Pierre Curzi, will no doubt reaffirm that Bill 96 does not have enough teeth to develop French fluency in immigrants and ensure Montreal's future in French.

Frédéric Lacroix, author of the book 'Why Bill 101 is a failure', believes that French has been steadily declining in Quebec, despite more than four decades of Bill 101. He will explain why to parliamentarians and how to reverse the trend, according to him.

Author, statistician and University of Ottawa professor Charles Castonguay is one of the experts on the language issue who has been documenting the slow decline of French in Quebec for years. He believes that Bill 96 does not go far enough to redress the situation and increase language transfers from immigrants to the French-speaking majority.

Another expert on language issues, demographer Marc Termote, expressed concern about the chances of Bill 96 having a positive impact on the future of French in Montreal. Other demographers who will testify before the parliamentary committee are Patrick Sabourin and Guillaume Marois.

A number of legal experts, particularly on constitutional issues, will provide their insights: Patrick Taillon, from Laval University, Indigenous and constitutional law specialist Jean Leclair, Daniel Turp, a professor at the University of Montreal and Benoît Pelletier, a former Liberal minister and now a full professor at the University of Ottawa.

Pelletier welcomed one aspect of the bill which, although "limited in scope," has been the subject of much discussion: the proposal to enshrine in the Canadian constitution the fact that Quebecers form a nation and that French is the only official language of Quebec and the common language of that nation.

The municipal world will surely comment on the articles dealing with the bilingual status granted to certain cities. The City of Montreal, the Union des municipalités du Québec, the Association des municipalités de banlieue and the Fédération québécoise des municipalités will all present opinions.

The major unions will also be present, as will the employer organizations, as well as numerous organizations, including those closely involved in the promotion of French: the Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois, Partenaires pour un Québec français, the Regroupement des organismes en francisation du Québec and the Mouvement Québec français.

Bill 96 is an ambitious document with some 200 articles, which will be studied in detail before its adoption.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Aug. 13, 2021.