MONTREAL – Even before the language debate resumes next week in the National Assembly, Dominique Anglade’s liberals say they fear that the Legault government wants to gag the opposition by forcing the adoption of Bill 96.
From the outset, the Liberal opposition therefore intends to ask the government to immediately commit to renouncing its right to invoke closure on the controversial bill on the status of French in Quebec, which will be the subject of a broad consultation over the next few weeks. .
In an open letter sent to certain media this week, the Liberal spokesperson for linguistic issues, MP Hélène David, warns the minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, against the temptation to cut the debate short to impose his views on the language.
“If the CAQ agrees to treat the issue of the French language seriously and without partisanship, as we believe is necessary, it must commit today to giving up imposing the closure of the debate in order to force the adoption of its draft. law, ”wrote the member for Marguerite-Bourgeoys. in the letter.
“This would pave the way for calm and constructive consultations, for the good of all of Quebec.”
The hybrid consultation, which will take place both by videoconference or in person, should allow, starting next Tuesday and until October 7, the testimony of some fifty people and organizations interested in commenting on the place of French. in Quebec and the laws necessary to ensure its future.
An ambitious plan to upgrade Bill 101, the previous law adopted in 1977 by the government of René Lévesque, Bill 96 aims to strengthen the status of French in Quebec by making changes in several areas.
It is a flagship bill of the Legault government during its mandate. It is also undoubtedly a law intended, like Law 21 on secularism, to confirm the strong nationalist identity and character of the CAQ government.
However, given the importance of this issue to the government, Jolin-Barrette seems reluctant to let the opposition get the better of him by imposing his vision.
This made the official opposition fearful of resorting to an invocation of closure of the debate, which would interrupt the legislative discussion, whenever it deems it appropriate, during the clause-by-clause study which will follow the public consultation on the document. .
FOUR PREVIOUS DEBATES ENDED BY CLOSURE UNDER CAQ
In the past, the Legault government has not hesitated to invoke closure, a practice that is supposed to be exceptional in principle.
She did so four times to force the adoption of certain bills, in the face of upset opposition: Bill 40, on the abolition of school boards, Bill 21, during the immigration reforms and for the deregulation of Hydro-Québec rates.
Prime Minister François Legault also flirted with the idea of using the article to end debate on Bill 61, the stimulus bill with a mass of infrastructure projects, but he ultimately gave up. that idea.
“The protection of the French language must unite us, not divide us,” argues David, affirming that she expects the government to take into account the proposals and amendments tabled by the opposition.
In the spring, the Liberals presented a list of 27 proposals aimed at protecting and promoting the French language, “while respecting the rights of the English-speaking minority”.
David raised questions in his letter about certain aspects of Bill 96, including the controversial issue of francophone access to anglophone CEGEPs. The government has chosen not to extend the application of Bill 101 to CEGEPs.
The Liberals say they would also like English-speaking CEGEP students to be required to take three French courses to obtain their Diploma of College Studies (DEC).
They also ask why the government chose to apply the notwithstanding clause to its entire bill, in order to protect it from any legal challenge.
“What articles do government lawyers consider to be contrary to the charters?” David asked in his letter, saying that he wanted the opposition to be seen as an ally and not as “an adversary”.
Asked this week about the upcoming consultation, Minister Jolin-Barrette said he was “open-minded”, possibly ready to improve his bill, but he insisted on his refusal to extend Bill 101 to CEGEPs.
“The bill preserves the rights of the English-speaking community and its institutions, as well as the rights of indigenous communities,” he declared.
“And certain rights are even added specifically for English-speaking rights holders, in particular access to CEGEP in English as a priority.
“So it is a moderate bill, but it is necessary to protect the French language”, declared the minister during a press briefing.
He recalled that when Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language, was adopted in 1977, “there were also criticisms, but everyone recognizes the importance of Bill 101 today, and here we are at a new stage where we must ensure that Bill 101 is improved to meet today’s reality.
He added that “French is in decline and this decline must be stopped”.
SOME LAW 101 ARCHITECTS WILL SPEAK
Among the personalities invited to participate in the hearings is the sociologist Guy Rocher, now professor emeritus of the University of Montreal and one of the architects of Bill 101 in 1977, when he was in the first PQ government of René Levesque.
Le Rocher, 97, will appear in committee on September 22.
In recent years, he said he had great admiration for Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, and that he wanted Simon Jolin-Barrette to follow in his footsteps by showing courage. He also spoke in favor of the controversial idea of extending Bill 101 to CEGEPs, an avenue that the minister did not follow.
Some former PQ elected officials will also come to express their point of view, including former minister Louise Beaudoin, who said in May that with Bill 96 Quebec was “far from Camille Laurin, from his audacity and his courage.”
However, she sees several interesting measures in the bill, namely the role of the state as an example, the recognized right to learn French and the extension of francization to businesses with 25 to 49 employees.
Another former elected PQ, actor and former member for Borduas, Pierre Curzi, should reaffirm that Bill 96 does not have the teeth to francize immigrants and ensure the future of Montreal in French.
The author of the book Why Bill 101 is a Failure, Frédéric Lacroix, believes that French has continued to decline in Quebec, despite more than four decades of application of Bill 101. He will explain why to parliamentarians, and how to reverse the trend, he says.
A language expert, author, statistician and professor at the University of Ottawa Charles Castonguay, is among those who have documented for years the slow decline of French in Quebec. He also says he believes that Bill 96 does not go far enough to raise the bar and increase the conversion of immigrants to the French-speaking majority.
Another expected language, demographer Marc Termote expressed concern about the chances that Bill 96 would have a positive influence on the future of French in Montreal.
Two other demographers will also come to testify in parliamentary committee: Patrick Sabourin and Guillaume Marois.
Several jurists, particularly in constitutional matters, will shed their light, including Patrick Taillon, from Laval University, Jean Leclair, specialist in constitutional law and aboriginal law, Daniel Turp, professor at the University of Montreal, and Benoît Pelletier, former minister liberal and now full professor at the University of Ottawa.
Pelletier said he was in favor of one of the aspects of the bill which, despite its “limited scope”, caused much ink to flow, namely the proposal to include 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.
Bill 96 is a heavy document of some 200 articles.
This report by La Presse Canadienne was first published in French on September 16, 2021.