Pascal Mailhot, vice president of PR agency TACT, has established himself in the senior ranks as political adviser to the Quebec Prime Minister’s Office, successively for Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry and François Legault. He has also held various senior positions in the healthcare network, most notably as spokesperson at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.
This month marks the 30th anniversarye anniversary of the introduction of Bill 86. Unable to assess the political implications of a renewal of the disregard clause (or “disregard clause”), the government of Robert Bourassa was forced in 1993 to agree a withdrawal of stance that would result in a significant change had the charter of the French language.
The return to English-language signs outside companies, the abolition of the Commission for the Protection of the French Language, the bilingualism of the state apparatus in its relations with citizens: this was indeed a serious blow to Bill 101, which reduced its impact and scope severely restricted. Since then, the French language has continued to decline, particularly in Montreal.
Three decades later, it’s time for a recovery.
Some observers on the political scene believe that the Respect for Quebec’s Official and Common Language Act (commonly known as Bill 96), passed by the National Assembly on May 24, 2022, should have been bolder in its actions and objectives.
As a former political adviser who was actively involved in the development of this law, I cannot claim to be neutral in my assessment. It should be noted that debate and compromise were necessary to arrive at this consensus. Regardless of your point of view, however, there is no denying that this law strengthens the use of the French language in government institutions, businesses and society in general. Not enough for the tastes of some (like the Parti Québécois), but it’s certainly not a step backwards…
For example, the law opens the door to legal action against companies that do not serve their customers in French. Employers’ obligations regarding French in the workplace will be strengthened, among other important measures. French must also appear “clearly predominant” in trademarks and the public representation of companies.
Furthermore, to protect the law from the arbitrariness of the courts and thus affirm the sovereignty of Quebec’s National Assembly, the Legault administration had no hesitation in using the waiver clause — a provision that Robert Bourassa’s Liberals had opposed and retained 30 years earlier.
As a bonus, Quebec’s linguistic peculiarity is now enshrined in Canada’s constitution: “Quebecians form one nation. French is the only official language of Quebec. It is also the common language of the nation of Quebec. This can now be read in full in the 1867 Constitution Act.
It should be noted that this change was achieved without the need for negotiations with Ottawa and the other provinces, thanks to a previously unknown change process.
One can imagine that Robert Bourassa would have been delighted to be offered such a strategy at the time he was struggling to find an answer to the failure of the Meech-Lake Agreement, which sought to recognize Quebec’s distinctiveness.. .
New construction site
Let’s see what the Action Group for the Future of the French Language has in store for us, an initiative of the Legault government launched in January 2023 with the aim of reversing the trend of the decline of Félix Leclerc’s language. The group, made up of half a dozen ministers, could present its action plan by the end of the spring.
We are obviously hoping for more than an advertising offensive, as is usual on the “Vogel”. sick “. The heavily criticized campaign still has the merit of having got people talking. In that sense, it has undoubtedly achieved its goal.
From the outset, the action group’s plan was to create a dashboard that would make it possible to follow the evolution of the linguistic situation in Quebec. Similar to Christian Dubé with the health network, we want to introduce indicators that ensure precise monitoring beyond the census information provided by the federal government every five years. As announced by the Minister for French Language, Jean-François Roberge, deadlines will be set for each of the objectives listed in the action plan.
The possibility of Bill 101 being extended to colleges is definitely out of the question, but government sources tell me a lot of effort is being made to refer foreign students to French-speaking colleges and universities. “We’re about to make a big breakthrough,” I was told.
Agreement between Roberge and Petitpas Taylor
Three decades ago, every development related to the French language came under scrutiny, sparking intense debate and in-depth analysis. The relative indifference with which the nearly unanimous passage of the Official Language Reform Bill C-13 in Ottawa today is a testament to the growing disinterest in the issue.
However, it is in this context that the agreement reached last April between French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge and his counterpart in Ottawa, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, takes on its full meaning. The aim of this agreement is to oblige companies under federal jurisdiction to respect the provisions of the French Language Charter.
In principle, therefore, the reform of the Official Language Act must oblige companies under federal jurisdiction to offer their employees internal communication in French, not only in Quebec but also elsewhere in Canada, for example in regions with a strong French-speaking presence in Acadia. “A Turning Point in Quebec-Ottawa Relations on the Touchy Question of Language”, reported The press on April 8th.
The foundations of language policy have long been considered a fault line between Quebec and Ottawa. Is it possible that this dynamic will change between the two governments?
“People think it always has to be the dispute with the federal government and the states. That’s not the case at all. People want us to work together to advance their priorities,” commented Minister Petitpas Taylor. And with good reason, signs of the decline of French continue to be seen in both Quebec and the rest of Canada’s provinces.
However, in order to consider that the agreement reached between Roberge and Petitpas Taylor represents a significant advance in the promotion and protection of the French language, it is necessary that companies under federal jurisdiction are actually required to comply with the Charter of the French Language. .
Let’s see how the specific provisions of the Official Languages Act will provide sufficiently solid guarantees in this regard. After all, the effectiveness and actual weight of these provisions will depend on their concrete implementation and the political will to enforce them. Only then can we conclude that the importance of linguistic diversity in Canada has truly evolved.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau government’s new official language action plan paradoxically calls for a US$137.5 million allocation to the Anglo-Quebec community (money rumored to be used primarily for Frenchization). But there is practically nothing to protect the French in Quebec – which will not help improve the indicators on the dashboard.
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