Bill 96 adopted by Quebec government
Bill 96, the government’s controversial reform of the French language charter, was officially adopted into law last week, but voters can expect it will continue to make headlines throughout the upcoming election campaign.
"I know of no linguistic minority that is better served in its own language than the English-speaking community in Québec. We are proud of that," said Premier François Legault in English during a press conference at the National Assembly following the adoption of the bill.
He continued, "We are also proud to be a francophone nation in North America and it's our duty to protect our common language. I invite all Quebeckers to speak it, to love it and to protect it."
The speech, in the language of Shakespeare, was meant to assure English-speaking Quebecers that their rights are still protected under Bill 96. However, many Anglophones remain unconvinced and opposition parties accuse the Legault government of dividing the province along linguistic lines.
"I know that there are some who are adding fuel to the fire by claiming that Bill 96 will prevent English-speaking Quebeckers from receiving health care services in English. We know that some of the people are worried. We are committed to protecting your access to health care in English. It's a historical promise that we will keep," Legault said.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she is not reassured by this promise. "It’s the government’s responsibility to dissipate all doubt regarding health. I think there are many questions that this bill raises… and no, I don’t think he [Legault] has answered all those questions."
Quebec Solidaire (QS) co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois told reporters that he thought the Coalition Avenir Quebec missed an opportunity to unite Quebecers by taking too much time to clarify the issue of access to health care services in English.
QS voted in favour of the bill, but says if elected, it will modify various aspects of the legislation, including applying Bill 101 to companies with more than 10 employees (Bill 96 applies to companies with more than 25 employees). The party will also "scrap" the six-month deadline after which agents of the state are prohibited from communicating with immigrants, including refugees, in any language other than French.
This deadline is one of the most contentious aspects of Bill 96. For many opposition MNAs, this touches a personal nerve. "When I arrived in Québec at 10 years old, I didn’t speak French," said QS MNA Ruba Ghazal, whose family immigrated from Lebanon in the 1980s.
She explained how many teacher-parent conferences were conducted in English so that her parents could understand. "And it was this kindness that made it so I had a good experience learning French, and today my life, like many, many children of Bill 101 is in French."
"When we arrived, my father and my mother, they didn't have time to go to school to learn the language. They had to work... we had to pay the rent, we had to pay the groceries, you know," said Liberal MNA Carlos Leitao.
"Learning a language in a formal setting is perhaps not the first priority of the recently arrived immigrant," he said.
If elected, the Liberals say they would do away with the caps made to enrollment in English CEGEPs. The party would also make sure there was no government interference in how judges are named.
The Parti Quebecois also voted against Bill 96, but unlike the Liberal Party, it will campaign on beefing up what the CAQ has put forward, including extending Bill 101 to CEGEPs.
"We hear Anglophones when they say it's a lot of administrative measures, a lot of blurry statements in the law. I think it is a genuine, legitimate criticism. So, it's not going far enough, but it's also creating burdens," said PQ leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.
The Conservative Party of Quebec is also against Bill 96, mainly because of the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause, which leader Eric Duhaime says only serves to block court challenges.
"If the Government thinks that the decision is not good and it's not serving the public interest, it has the right to … use the notwithstanding clause to apply what they believe is essential. But at least there's a debate. At least, there's political accountability," he said.
Despite this, several groups, including the English Montreal School Board are preparing to challenge the bill in court.