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23 April 2022

Protecting and promoting French – inclusively!

In Quebec, we live in a democracy where we share both the privilege and responsibility of living in the largest French-speaking society in North America. We all want to see the French language thrive throughout our province and beyond our borders. We have always been committed to protecting and promoting our common language, while respecting the rights of the English-speaking community. The presence of this English-speaking community, rooted in and attached to Quebec, is an integral part of our strength and diversity, and this recognition is key to Quebecers living together harmoniously. We, the Quebec Liberal Party, insist that this diversity is a strength and never a weakness.

Bill 96 is flawed by numerous measures that go too far and that, at best, deliver no real protection to the French language and, at worst, undermine the rule of law that all governments have, for decades, been careful to protect. This bill fails to achieve the stated objective for which this government claims to have drafted it. After hours of work in parliamentary committee, and despite the adoption of certain amendments, the bill remains tainted by the intransigence and rigidity of several measures put forward by the government. We will always stand up for the rights of every Quebecer, as we did by voting against Bill 40 and against Bill 21. And that is why we will also vote against Bill 96.

It is deeply worrisome that the government has taken advantage of the tabling of Bill 96 to amend such fundamental laws as our Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Courts of Justice Act and the rules governing judicial appointments — all without duly holding public consultations with relevant stakeholders. We cannot accept a piece of legislation that will limit judicial independence, while potentially restricting access to the judicial process in one’s language of choice; we cannot accept a law that freezes enrolment in English-language CEGEPs, indefinitely. We are further troubled by the administrative burden imposed on small and medium-sized businesses. It is imperative that the impact and consequences of these measures be assessed, without delay. We deplore the fact that all investigative and search powers accorded to the Office québécois de la langue française are harnessed to the notwithstanding clause, as is the totality of Bill 96. This is the sad repetition of the disturbing scenario created by the government when it pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause in Bill 21. Disturbingly, the government seems to be comfortable with making a habit of this practice, one that amounts to an admission of failure to respect fundamental rights.

Bill 96, which claims to protect the French language, does not address important issues regarding the quality of French-language instruction, and of literacy. It fails to propose targeted measures to improve access to French-language services, particularly in downtown Montreal. It ignores new pressures on the French language brought on by our rapidly changing technological environment, via the popularity of video games and streaming platforms.

It would have and should have been possible to work in a far more inclusive spirit, one in which each citizen is supported in his or her mastery of French. What we insist upon is for every individual to be able to contribute fully, both linguistically and culturally, to our Quebec society. All Quebecers contribute to the development of our society and we must support them in their quest to master our common French language. That is how we can best work toward our collective prosperity.

We will vote against this bill, which will not deliver on its promises but threatens to deliver on its shortcomings.

Dominique Anglade

Leader of the Quebec Liberal Party