Most opponents of Bill 96 “on the official and common language of Quebec, French,” whether it be Marlene Jennings of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), or the Liberal leader, Dominique Anglade, recognize the importance of maintaining vitality. safeguards of the French language in Quebec.
In the letter presented during the public consultations on Bill 96, the QCGN reiterates almost word for word the objective of Bill 101 when it was passed in 1977: to ensure that French, whose vitality we must be concerned and influence, the language of government and laws, as well as the normal language “in work, education, communication, commerce and business”. But when it comes to taking concrete steps to get there, the QCGN hesitates. It will be content with nothing but the status quo: the state of Quebec communicates in French or in English, depending on the choice of the person to whom the service is provided. He denounces the distinction introduced by the CAQ government between the historical minority of rights holders who have or have received their education in English in Quebec, and the others, especially immigrants, with whom the state does not communicate only in French.
The QCGN, along with other detractors, has searched for lice in Bill 96, which certainly harbors lice. But in reality, it is against its own economy, against one of its fundamental aims, that it opposes that of transforming a government that applies institutional bilingualism into one that operates in French, except in exceptional cases where the law provides. This objective is no different from Bill 101, as conceived by Camille Laurin and Guy Rocher, an objective that has never really been achieved, it must be said, and from which we are moving away.
Let’s start by remembering what doesn’t change the bill, despite the scarecrows being waved. This is the case in health services, where patients can continue to be treated in English or even if possible in third languages. In addition, the Health and Social Services Act, which affirms the right of every English-speaking person to receive services in English, remains fully applicable. At the request of Liberal MPs, an amendment was even passed adding suspenders to the belt.
We also noted that six months after their arrival, government employees will not be able to communicate with immigrants in a language other than French. The government shot itself in the foot there. Arbitrarily, this period is seen as the time the government gives a newcomer to learn French, which in many cases is too short. In the field of education, there is concern about these parents who come from elsewhere and do not understand French and who will not be able to obtain the relevant information that teachers or educational support staff would like to pass on to their child.
It is now too late to make any changes to the bill before it is passed, scheduled for next week. However, damage can be avoided and common sense prevails. The legislative framework should be complemented by policies and guidelines, in particular to specify the cases in which another language may be used when “the principles of natural justice so require”. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the minister has the power to set rules.
English CEGEPs will welcome the same number of students as before. The controversy created by the addition of French courses only underscores the fact that many students have a poor understanding of the supposedly common language. By mixing up the files, however, the CAQ government showed itself petty — we understand the low-key political gain it was pursuing — by canceling Dawson’s expansion. This extension, like that of the French CEGEPs in Montreal, meets the minimum standards set by the authorized ministry.
The fact remains that the opponents have often paid in the lawsuits. The CAQ government holds all the cards to avoid aberrations. Bill 96 is necessary, although the finicky nature can be a deterrent at times. One would like to say as René Lévesque, who, during a meeting of the Parti Québécois after the adoption of Bill 63, made this cry from the heart out of sad memory: “I am tired of talking about language. In a normal society it speaks to itself, the language. Fifty years later, Quebec is still not a normal society and remains a nation that fears disintegration.