The public consultations on Bill 96, which seeks to modify the Charter of the French Language, will begin next Tuesday at the National Assembly. As with any bill whose content affects our language, this one has raised a number of questions. That’s not unusual — it’s a topic that goes to the very heart of our identity, to the heart of our Quebec nation.
At the Quebec Liberal Party, we believe that we must approach this exercise in a way that brings together Quebecers from all horizons. Sadly, the consultations have not yet begun and we are already experiencing disappointment. The CAQ’s refusal to hold general consultations is curtailing the democratic process. Given that the hearings are being held by invitation only, several groups will not have an opportunity to be heard.
If the CAQ is truly interested in addressing the issue of the French language in earnest and without partisanship, as we believe it should be, then it must make a commitment today that it will not use closure proceedings to force the bill’s adoption. That commitment would set the stage for calm, constructive consultations that would benefit all Quebecers.
The CAQ must also demonstrate openness to questions and proposals made by opposition parties. The Quebec Liberal Party is firmly committed to protecting and promoting the French language while respecting the English-speaking minority. That is why last spring we tabled a comprehensive plan with 27 proposals to improve the status and quality of our shared language. We hope that the CAQ will study our proposals and questions seriously, with as much attention as we invested in our plan’s development.
At the end of these consultations, we will surely have a number of points of clarification and questions to which the CAQ will need to respond. However, there are already certain aspects of the bill that could be clarified quickly:
- Several groups are raising questions regarding the applicability of the right to French-language services. What means, methods, procedures and sanctions are specifically provided to apply this right?
- Has the CAQ foreseen the necessary resources to support businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises, in their application of the bill’s provisions? Have specific measures been created to accompany Downtown Montreal businesses, as we have suggested?
- How will the OQLF’s inspection powers be regulated?
- Why has Minister Jolin-Barrette not retained our suggestion to include the requirement of at least three French courses for the obtaining of a DEC in English CEGEPS?
- Why did the CAQ government decide to apply the notwithstanding provisions to the Charters of Rights and Freedoms to the entirety of this bill? Which articles have been deemed to run counter to the charters by Quebec’s state lawyers?
- What is the government’s true intention regarding English CEGEPs? This summer, the Minister of Higher Education, Danielle McCann, announced a 10-year moratorium on admissions to these institutions, which goes much further than what is indicated in this bill. Who are we to believe- the Minister of Higher Education or the Minister responsible for the French Language?
Mr. Legault, Mr. Jolin-Barrette, we are reaching out to you. Are you willing to work constructively with us to advance the French Language in the best interests of all Quebecers so that when it comes to the advancement of our shared language, everyone can be an ally and not an adversary?
Hélène David, Official Opposition Critic for the Protection of the French Language