The language debate is back: Some Anglos plan to fight PQ’s Bill 14
MONTREAL—Bilingual municipalities fear they will lose their status and small businesses fear tough new restrictions. Quebec’s Anglophones are on edge and opposition is growing to the Parti Quebecois’ proposed revamp of language laws.
After a large protest in downtown Montreal on Sunday, an intense campaign is being mounted to warn Quebecers about Bill 14.
Antoinette Mercurio is an example of those fearing the law. She runs a small business with more than 25 employees, if Bill 14 becomes law she says she'll have to re-consider her future in Quebec completely.
“If I cannot work my way, the way my company runs, the way it makes it profitable for me, then why do I stay here?” said the travel consultant.
While Mercurio speaks four languages, Bill 14 would require all of her company's internal communications to be in French, from memos to reservations.
“I'm angry because I don't know of any other country that has such a thing as a language police which comes inside my office, my business and tells me, you have to say, ‘La toilette est par la,’” said Mercurio.
Under Bill 14, municipalities with fewer than 50 per cent Anglophone residents would lose their bilingual status. Some Montreal city councillors plan to start lobbying the province to reconsider.
“There isn't a movement of people protesting saying, ‘Take away their right to function bilingually,’ there just isn't. People see this as a cheap shot by the government of Quebec,” said councillor Marvin Rotrand.
Sunday's demonstration against Bill 14 was healthy for democracy according to political analyst Robert Libman. He warns there will be more protests to come.
“We've had so called linguistic peace for a number of years now in Quebec and if it takes the Anglophone community to get in the streets to show the Liberals and the CAQ that we don't want anything to do with this legislation, then it's got to be done right now,” said Libman, the former leader of the Equality Party.
Mercurio says she's going to take to the streets the next time she gets the chance.
“This bill is discriminatory to absolutely everybody, Francophones included,” she said, planning to fight before she may be forced to take flight.
The Anglophone rights movement has two more rallies planned for next week, they're hoping their voices will be heard in Quebec City in both languages.
Liberals plan to vote against Bill 14
In the National Assembly, the Quebec Liberals confirmed Monday that they would vote against tightening the province’s language laws.
The second opposition Coalition Avenir Quebec appears to be striking a middle-of-the-road stance.
MNAs in committee hearings on Monday said the proposed law was top of mind. That came on the same day as PQ Anglo point man Jean-Francois Lisee said it would be alright to have bilingual service at the Peel and McGill metro stations.
“I’m opposed to increasing the bilingualism of public services. I think that [Montreal’s transit authority] has absolute requirement to present itself in French, however some bilingual zones wouldn’t be scandalous,” the minister responsible for Anglophones told a radio interviewer.
The statement came as a partial backtrack from a previous interview where Lisee seemed to support the idea of bilingualism across the STM. The opposition Liberals couldn’t believe the statement.
“I was flabbergasted because could you imagine if a Liberal minister would have said that the McGill station and Peel station would have bilingual status, I would have been crucified in the media,” said former Liberal minister Christine St-Pierre.
With language back on the front burner in Quebec, a Bill 101 committee hearing on Monday saw the Liberals publicly oppose Bill 14. The CAQ’s position remains uncertain.
“We say that there is no problem right now between Anglophone and Francophone; please don't make new problems,” said the CAQ’s Nathalie Roy.
The CAQ does not support provisions that remove the bilingual statuses of cities or ban children on military bases from attending English schools. According to Roy, the current Bill 101 has enough teeth with fines of $6,000 to $20,000.
“If you give a fine to a business manager who doesn't respect the French language he will understand it and he will respect it but the problem is they don't do it they don't apply the Bill 101 as it is right now,” said Roy.
The CAQ's 19 MNAs could be the determining factor in deciding the fate of Bill 14. The party clearly wants changes to the bill, but the PQ believes Bill 14 is already a compromise. The question remains: Will the PQ be prepared to bend even further?