A blog post signed jointly by François Legault and Nathalie Roy
Last Thursday marked the end of public consultations on Bill 14, a bill to modify the Charter of the French Language. For six weeks, a very large number of individuals and organizations from all horizons of Quebec shared their concerns with regard to this bill.
Any debate surrounding language is subject to bring out passion amongst Quebecers. The Parti Quebecois has members in its ranks that would still prefer a more punitive approach. To them, it is the only way to ensure that French will survive in Quebec, and that it remains an attractive language for our children and for new immigrants.
The Liberal Party is also beholden to a segment of its supporters who are completely unwilling to consider any revision to Bill 101, even 40 years after it was first passed. The arrival of Philippe Couillard as leader of the PLQ led us to believe, based on his own initial statements, that they would be open to amendments the government could make to the bill. Mr. Couillard has flip-flopped. Yet, the leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec also has a responsibility to protect and promote the French language in Quebec.
For its part, the Coalition Avenir Quebec announced it agreed to proceed with a detailed study of Bill 14, because we wanted to give the government one last chance to propose amendments that would make the law acceptable in our eyes, that is promote and protect the French language while protecting the rights of Quebec’s anglophone minority.
That being said, we now say that after the consultations that took place over the previous weeks, the reasons to oppose the current version of Bill 14 have not gone away. Far from it. They have actually increased. In its current form, there is no chance what we will support the bill at final reading.
The stage we have just passed has shown itself to be very informative. Before the beginning of public consultations, three issues caused us the most concern:
- The new coercive measures that Bill 14 enacts to target small and medium businesses in Quebec.
- The removal of bilingual status from certain municipalities.
- The abolition of the exemption of Bill 101 for children of military families.
Then, Minister De Courcy, who leads the government charge on this bill in Parliament, convened a hastily-arranged press conference to announce that she was somewhat backtracking on the above points, but without proposing or tabling any specific amendments.
After the six weeks of consultations, other issues have arisen that cause us concern and have created new obstacles to supporting this legislation when it reaches its final vote.
The first concerns the limitation placed on access to English CEGEP for francophones, a measure that would remove rights from these individuals. We share the opinion of the Federation of CEGEPs to the effect that the students who choose to attend CEGEP are adults that have a right to choose the post-secondary institution they feel is best suited to their scholastic and career aspirations.
The other problems raised during the consultations are more technical concerns that were brought up by the Quebec Bar Association and the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal. Among the troubling issues:
- The bill calls for automatic lawsuits by the Office Quebecois de la Langue Francaise (OQLF), because it eliminated the preliminary step of a demand letter for businesses that had complaints lodged against them. This coercive approach is absolutely unjustified.
- The minister can launch an inquiry into how the application of the Charter of the French Language, and can avail herself of all the powers provided by Articles 9,10, and 11 of the Loi sur les commissions d’enquête (except the clauses that would impose a prison sentence) According to the statistics of the OQLF, 98% of all complaints are handled without the intervention of the courts. Once again, this coercive measure is not justified.
- The substitution of the expression “ethnic minorities” with “cultural communities” in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This useless change takes an expression associated with legal jurisprudence and replaces it with an expression that has no legal definition.
- The addition of the right to live and work in French to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse recommends, we believe it is more important to add this right to the Charter of the Quebec Language instead.
In conclusion, the Coalition will support positive measures and incentives for the smallest businesses, as well as all measures that would improve the offer of French courses and training and the integration of immigrants into the Quebec workforce.
We believe in promoting French in Quebec by making it an attractive and functional language, but not in a way that we shoot ourselves in the foot with a coercive approach and some of the useless measures contained in Bill, 14 and certainly not by infringing the rights of our anglophone compatriots as this bill currently does.
The ball is now in the government’s court. If it tables the necessary amendments, we could adopt this bill in Third Reading. If not, we will vote against it and the Parti Quebecois will only have themselves to blame.