Analysis of Bill 96: the linguistic divide in Quebec is more pronounced than ever


There are no easy ways out of the linguistic quagmire, the same one that has haunted all Quebec governments for 40 years.

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QUEBEC – After three long weeks of hearings, the message came like a cold shower.

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When Marc Termote, a veteran demographer from the University of Montreal, sat down on Thursday to present a brief to the legislative committee studying the overhaul of the Charter of the French language by Bill 96, he delivered a message that some ‘between them didn’t really want to hear.

Tinkering as much as you want with the charter won’t have much of an effect on slowing the decline of French, especially when it comes to the mother tongue of Quebeckers, which is important for future generations, Termote said.

In other words, imposing restrictions on the use of English in stores and businesses looks good on paper, but the only real area Quebec can act on and hope for results is the immigration. Even there, he added, “the result is almost ridiculous since the decline in the demographic weight of Francophones is only marginally slowing down”.

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Ironically, for the hearings that were supposed to focus on strengthening French, Termote said that Anglophones in Quebec are in the same boat that is demographically fleeing due to their own low birth rate, an aging population and the effects to long term of the exodus of Anglophones in the ’70s and’ 80s.

“Inviting a demographer (to audiences of this nature) takes courage,” he joked. “They always come with bad news.”

Hélène David, the liberal language critic on the committee, later remarked that Termote’s brief was “the most pessimistic to date, very few solutions.”

It was Termote who successfully predicted in 2000 that mother-tongue Francophones would become a minority on the island of Montreal.

But if the committee, which heard from 50 groups and individuals and received 50 other briefs, revealed anything, it is that there are no simple ways out of the linguistic quagmire, the same one that haunts everyone. the governments of Quebec for 40 years.

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The question is always how far do you go? If there is a consensus on the need to do something, as the minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, said on Thursday, the answers get tangled up in the rhetoric springing from the two solitudes.

“There are several groups that say you are going too far or not going far enough, but one thing everyone recognizes is that we are taking action on the issue of the French language,” Jolin said. -Barrette.

An Angus-Reid opinion poll released Friday shows the extent of the divide. While 95 percent of Anglophone respondents said they were somewhat or strongly opposed to the bill, 77 percent of Francophones somewhat or strongly supported it.

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The hearings also revealed in a revealing way a cleavage between the government of the Coalition Avenir Québec, the associations of CEGEPs, the business community and the municipal world on some of the means it proposes to use to revive French. All of them launched the need for linguistic peace, which seems increasingly improbable in an election year.

The CAQ government will find itself making the distinction between linguistic hawks and moderates in its future decisions on the type of amendments it might want to include in the bill, which will have to be recalled after October 19. to the government’s decision to prorogue Parliament. .

As for the already icy relations of the CAQ with representative groups of the English-speaking community, they were abundantly exposed even if only a handful of them were able to speak. The organizations said on Friday they did not appreciate Jolin-Barrette begging them to read the fine print of Bill 96, which he said does not affect the community.

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“Don’t worry, we did it,” said an official from the Quebec Community Groups Network, which strongly opposes the bill.

“If there is a grandfather clause (on Anglophone rights) in there, we haven’t been able to find it,” said Rachel Hunting, executive director of the Townshippers’ Association, who made a brief to the committee on Wednesday.

Jolin-Barrette is also suffering the heat from supporters of the hardline of the language. In a tweet on Friday, author Frédéric Lacroix, who wrote a book titled Why Law 101 is a Failure, yanked Jolin-Barrette for saying he believed Law 96 would reverse the decline of French.

“No, in its current state, Law 96 will in no way reverse the decline of French,” he writes. “This will only make the path to the minority situation in which French Quebec is heading more comfortable.”

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But with 2022 being an election year, Bill 96 is part of a larger plan by the CAQ to solidify its position as the main nationalist party.

On Friday, TVA Nouvelles reported that as of Sunday, the government will launch a $ 1.4 million advertising campaign on television, internet, radio and billboards promote pride in the French language.

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