Some fear for the Outaouais economy following Bill 96

Some businesses and communities in the Outaouais say they are ready to comply with the controversial changes to Bill 96 in French, but warn that it could come at a cost.

Bill 96 proposes to revoke the bilingual status of any Quebec municipality where less than 50% of the citizens have English as their mother tongue.

Jurisdictions that do not have this status must offer services only in French, with some exceptions.

The bill worries some Quebec business leaders about the potential impacts on the province’s economy. Dozens of people signed an open letter that was posted online Friday, calling on the government to suspend the law.

“It’s a good thing to protect French…I’m all for it,” said Nicolas Roy, a businessman from Gatineau, Que., and CEO of Epsi, a firm specializing in managing human ressources.

While he unreservedly supports the principles and foundations of the law, Roy signed the letter anyway.

“I think we should better consider the impact such a bill could have on small and medium-sized businesses,” he said.

A “very heavy” burden

The bill’s strict language requirements make Quebec a less attractive place to work than other provinces, Roy said. It is also a barrier to recruiting people from outside Canada, he added, as they should be able to learn French within six months of immigrating.

With Quebec businesses already struggling to attract skilled labor and eyeing a potential recession, Roy said these kinds of hurdles could have devastating effects.

“It’s a burden [that’s] very heavy,” Roy said.

In the community of Mansfield-et-Pontefract, in western Quebec, the bill could affect the many English-speaking tourists and vacationers who arrive each spring and summer, said Mayor Sandra Armstrong.

The small municipality about 120 kilometers northwest of Ottawa is “already a francophone community” and operates almost entirely in French, Armstrong said. Just like its neighbors, Fort-Coulonge and Île-du-Grand-Calumet, she added.

Still, providing services to English-speaking tourists is crucial to the local economy, Armstrong said.

“For now, we will continue to serve them in French or English to help them. Then we will see what the government is really asking each municipality about this,” Armstrong said.

“We must not hide the fact that we must respect this law.”

Lawyer Gabriel Poliquin says he expects several elements of Bill 96 to be called into question. (CBC / Radio Canada)

Minister promises to support businesses

Quebec Immigration and Labor Minister Jean Boulet was in the Outaouais on Friday and, when asked about the impact of Bill 96 on local small and medium-sized businesses, he said they would be supported during the application. of the law.

The government would support the transition to French-only workplaces through Francisation Quebec, said Boulet, which will provide French-language learning services.

Francization Québec is to come into effect on June 1, 2023.

Still, Bill 96 may “go too far in a constitutional sense,” said Gabriel Poliquin, a lawyer with the Ottawa law firm Olthuis Van Ert.

The bill is a significant amendment to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, Poliquin said, and aspects of the charter have already been challenged in court.

Poliquin said he expects Bill 96 will also be challenged, possibly under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Constitution Act.

“Even if some provisions of the law survive these legal challenges, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good ideas or practical ideas from a public policy perspective,” Poliquin said.

Legislative changes related to Bill 96 laws will be phased in by 2025.

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