Joyal: At stake in Bill 101 decision is the very concept of Canada

Along with other commentary in this vein (Caddell: Bill 101 applying federally? Time for some constitutional common sense):

In recent months there has been a campaign in Quebec, orchestrated by independentist parties and nationalist movements, and now joined by a bi-partisan group of former Quebec premiers, to induce the Canadian government to subject federally chartered agencies and businesses to Bill 101. These entities account for barely four per cent of the labour force, a minimal proportion. The campaign’s goal is to counter what is held to be a “decline of French” in Montreal that is allegedly raging in downtown businesses.

What is at stake in the situation currently facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the very concept of Canada and the principles upon which it is based.

The federal government’s response seems hesitant. Yet the principles of linguistic equality are clear, and section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is eloquent. Seen through that lens, the fundamental nature of Canada serves francophones most of all.

The subtext of this campaign is pernicious: It implies that federally chartered enterprises contribute to the anglicization of Quebec. It overlooks the fact that some of these companies are also subject to the Official Languages Act, which includes precise measures for the provision of services in French and the right of employees to work in the language of their choice (in Quebec, for the majority, French), and that in addition there is a Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure that the law is obeyed.

Who could argue that Radio-Canada and its TV and radio networks could be a cause of the decline of French? That is ludicrous! The French language spoken on its airwaves has always been a model of quality in French Canada; the same is true of the NFB. French is also upheld in other enterprises with a federal charter, such as COGECO, or on 98.5 FM!

The noisy campaign propagated by a popular tabloid, brandishing the threat of an apprehended decline, creates a false perception and seems to be intimidating the defenders of basic principles.

Letting the idea spread that we should reduce the rights of the minority in Quebec could have fateful consequences for francophone minorities in other provinces. Does the defence of modern Canada not deserve better than a dishonourable capitulation? The country has never progressed when it has abandoned a minority. What signal would we be sending for the future of Canada? This retreat would be a very bad omen.

For many years now, it has been the government of Canada that has most efficiently supported the cultural dynamism of Quebec, at all levels.

If we want to reinforce French, we must focus on innovative policies that address the contemporary situation of French, which is controlled by, among other things, the digital platforms that young people prefer.

For example: Adopt strong measures so that French-language works are properly visible on Big Tech, and not simply determined by algorithms that steer and limit users’ choices.

For example: Ensure that the Commissioner of Official Languages’ powers are efficiently reinforced concerning the adoption of French as a language of work and of service. In other words, give the watchdog better tools, rather than abandon the field to provincial officialdom. The interests of the whole country would be far better served.

What I suggest is not surrender to a narrow vision of linguistic and cultural reality that in practice would separate Quebec from the fundamental principles of Canada, but rather a renewed commitment to meet the societal challenges of today’s world with all the tools of public policy at the Canadian government’s disposal.

I think it is timely to voice these concerns: it seems to me that the current discomfort and silence are becoming deafening.Serge Joyal is a retired senator and former member of the House of Commons and federal cabinet minister. In 1980-81, he served as co-chair of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada. This oped is adapted from a letter that he has sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


Pratte: Opinion: Questioning whether French is in decline should not be heresy

A very good example of how to analyze language data in a comprehensive and nuanced manner, using the wide range of language measures in the census and the Rapport sur l’évolution de la situation linguistique au Québec (mother tongue, language most spoken at home, language most spoken at work, language of instruction):

In the wake of a question from MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos that included quotation marks, Minister of Official Languages Mélanie Joly said she was “stunned” and maintained that “we cannot deny at this time that there is a decline in the French language in Montreal and across the country. The statistics show it.”

The decline of French would thus have become an absolute truth, statistical dogma that cannot be contested without risking excommunication — a punishment that was, as a matter of fact, administered to Lambropoulos.

However, the reality is much more complex. In its latest Rapport sur l’évolution de la situation linguistique au Québec, published last year (125 pages of statistics!), the Office québécois de la langue française paints a very nuanced picture of the situation.

Is there a decline? Some data suggest that there is, but several other figures show either stability or progress for francophones, particularly since the francization of immigrant children introduced by Bill 101.

In terms of mother tongue, for example, it is true that the proportion of French speakers slipped from 80.9 per cent to 77 per cent between 1996 and 2016. However, the proportion of anglophones also decreased, from 8.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent. No, the shift from French as a mother tongue has been toward “other” languages, that is, the mother tongues of immigrants. Their children, on the other hand, will go to French school, and French will slowly establish itself from one generation to the next.

Moreover, unlike previous generations, the majority (75 per cent) of recent immigrants who speak a language other than their mother tongue at home adopt French. According to this indicator, within the immigrant population, French is not declining at all, it is on the rise.

Data on language of work and language of instruction provide an equally nuanced picture. For example, on the island of Montreal, the number of children entitled to English-language education under Bill 101 dropped by one-third, from 75,256 to 50,416 students between 1986 and 2015.

Where the problem lies is in the language used in downtown retailers. The survey published by Le Journal de Montréal a few days ago confirms the data collected by the Office, according to which the proportion of stores in downtown Montreal where customers are greeted in French decreased sharply from 2010 to 2017, from 86.2 per cent to 72 per cent for stores in shopping centres, and from 89.5 per cent to 73.6 per cent for stores fronting on the street. These drops occurred in favour of English and of Bonjour-Hi. That said, once past the initial greeting, service in French was available in 96 per cent of cases, a proportion that has not changed since 2010.

We cannot therefore speak of a general decline in French. It all depends on what exactly we’re talking about. The government — and Quebec society in general — must certainly act to ensure that customers are received in stores first and foremost in French. It must be clearly indicated that the main language in Quebec is French.

However, the problems with how customers are greeted in stores do not justify an all-out linguistic offensive, even though such a policy would be popular. We will have to think twice, for example, before imposing Bill 101 on businesses under federal jurisdiction, when there is nothing to indicate that the problem of the “decline” of French is rooted in this sector, which accounts for less than four per cent of the province’s workers. It is surprising, moreover, that the government of Canada has not categorically rejected this blatant intrusion into its jurisdiction.

In short, one cannot speak of a decline of French in Quebec without putting a lot of nuances into it. We can say this while affirming that the situation of French in Quebec will always remain fragile and that, consequently, vigilance is required. However, in order to ensure that policies in this area continue to be well informed, it is absolutely necessary to authorize and encourage debate and questioning, even accompanied by quotation marks.

In short, one cannot speak of a decline of French in Quebec without putting a lot of nuances into it. We can say this while affirming that the situation of French in Quebec will always remain fragile and that, consequently, vigilance is required. However, in order to ensure that policies in this area continue to be well informed, it is absolutely necessary to authorize and encourage debate and questioning, even accompanied by quotation marks.

André Pratte, former journalist and former senator, is a principal at Navigator.


Yes, the Quebec ‘language police’ does serve a purpose: Konrad Yakabuski

Good balanced commentary:

In 2013, Quebec’s language-enforcement agency made a global fool of itself by attempting to crack down on a Montreal restaurant’s failure to translate the names of well-known Italian food items on its menu into French. Thus was born Pastagate, which was so embarrassing that it forced the normally hardline (on language) Parti Québécois government of the moment to rein in the Office québécois de la langue française. The head of the OQLF even lost her job.

Since then, the agency charged with promoting French and applying the dispositions of the province’s 40-year-old Charter of the French Language, otherwise known as Bill 101, has kept a low profile. The former PQ government freed it of the obligation of having to investigate every complaint it receives, allowing the agency to use its judgment and, hence, avoid future Pastagates to the best of its ability. This rankles some French purists who think the agency, often referred to derisively by anglophones as the Quebec language police, has been neutered.

The news this week that the OQLF will no longer “systematically” reject the use of widely accepted English terms – forcing businesses to use a French alternative proposed by the OQLF on signage, in advertisements or in the workplace – won’t make it any new friends among those who think that opening the door even a crack to les anglicismes is inviting trouble. Purists argue it is the OQLF’s job to counter the use of English terms in Quebec French, not countenance it.

Indeed, it was not that long ago that Quebec French was saturated with English terms simply because the local parlance contained no handy alternative. Francophone Quebeckers would trek to their local Canadian Tire to pick up des spark plug, des wiper or un block heater. Before the advent of official bilingualism federally and Bill 101 in Quebec, market forces were such that North American manufacturers and retailers had no incentive to come up with French names for their products.

The OQLF’s work to come up with French terms was once described by one former head of the agency as “an enterprise of decolonization.” That may be a bit overdramatic. But it did allow francophone Quebeckers, especially unilingual ones, to name their reality with words they actually understood.

It’s easy for anglophones to have a blasé attitude toward the introduction of the odd French word into English. They might feel differently if they were confronted with French terms everywhere they turned, if they had to use French expressions to describe everyday occurrences in their lives, because no English ones existed.

But in a world where English is the lingua franca, that’s not a problem anglophones generally face. English tends to get the naming rights to every new scientific discovery, invention or social trend. It’s not because English is a particularly inventive language. It’s just the globe’s dominant one. But who knows? With China’s rise, that may change.

The OQLF’s move to adopt new criteria for determining whether it is acceptable to use a so-called anglicism is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that certain French alternatives will never take hold. Grilled cheese is so ubiquitous, and so universally understood, that it is senseless to force restaurants to replace it with sandwich au fromage fondant on their menus. Besides, that’s precisely the kind of overkill that subjects the OQLF to ridicule.

It’s much better for the OQLF to focus its scarce resources on creating French neologisms for the hundreds of English technical terms that are introduced every year, particularly in the high-technology sector. That is the OQLF’s main 21st-century challenge.

Canada accounts for only 7.2 million of the world’s 220 million francophones – though that latter figure includes so-called partial French-speakers, largely in Africa. The point is that, just as British and Canadian English differ in many ways (what we call a truck they call a lorry), Quebec French differs from the French spoken on other continents. The OQLF has been a leader in modernizing the French language and the French themselves have taken note.

“To remain alive, a language must be able to express the modern world in all its diversity and complexity. Each year, thousands of new notions and realities appear that must be understood and named,” notes the mission statement of France’s Commission d’enrichissement de la langue française, which was created in 1996 and modelled after the OQLF. “The creation of French terms to name today’s realities is a necessity.”

Source: Yes, the Quebec ‘language police’ does serve a purpose – The Globe and Mail