Who had seen her coming? Not me. It wasn’t written in my crystal ball, even in the small print.
In the midst of a pandemic, the protection of French is back at the forefront of debates, both in Quebec City and in Ottawa.
For the Caquista government, the news is unexpected. The window opens wide to present its plan to protect French.
For the federal government, it is more complicated. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals want to woo the Quebec electorate, but the message has not reached the whole family …
Last week, MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos questioned the decline of French in Quebec. The member for Saint-Laurent made her statement in English.
On Wednesday, a recent tweet from Quebec party president Chelsea Craig resurfaced. She judged Bill 101 “oppressive” and “ruinous” for the education of Anglophones. In his case, too, the message was in English.
The irony seems to have escaped them …
It is annoying for the Liberals because it comes as they try to reposition themselves on French.
In the Speech from the Throne in September, Mr. Trudeau gave himself the “responsibility” of “protecting and promoting” French in Quebec.
Historically, the federal government has been concerned with minority languages - English in Quebec and French in the rest of the country. Mr. Trudeau is now committed to recognizing the special status of French in Quebec.
How? ‘Or’ What ? The minister responsible for the file, Mélanie Joly, is working on it. This could involve a modernization of the Official Languages Act, which has not been significantly changed for at least 30 years – for example, the law says nothing about telecommunications. This work is not easy, however, and the next electoral campaign is likely to arrive within a few months.
The application of Bill 101 to organizations under federal jurisdiction is not ruled out by Ottawa, but appetite seems weak. The Liberal Party of Quebec, however, rallied to the idea this fall.
Another proof that the debate on French is coming back surprisingly.
Of course, the Liberal conversion did not come out of nowhere. It comes as the Bloc holds itself tied for the lead in voting intentions, the New Democrats are marginalizing and the Conservatives are courting the nationalists.
However, when I spoke to many federal Liberals on Wednesday, I heard the same observation: French is declining in Montreal and the latest statistics are worrying.
I know, it surprises …
The Liberals know that many remain skeptical. This is precisely why the declarations of Mmy Craig and Lambropoulos hurt. They undermine the fragile credibility they are trying to build.
The Bloc claims they represent true Liberal thought. Seems a bit big to me. Other currents exist, as this letter from a former counselor demonstrates.
Read the text of Chloé Luciani-Girouard https://www.lapresse.ca/debats/opinions/2020-11-17/recul-du-francais/une-reur-de-mauvaise-foi. php
But M’s statementme Lambropoulos is not anecdotal either. It sums up a new risk for French.
Different measures exist to assess its health. There is the display, service and working language. Also the rate of people mastering a language. And beyond the ability to speak it, there is the will to do so and the intensity of its use.
This is where the Lambropoulos case is revealing. Trilingual, this young woman speaks French well – she taught in this language in an English-speaking high school before running for politics.
When she won the inaugural assembly in 2017, however, she began her speech in English. “It’s my favorite language,” she explained to a journalist. She also addressed the parliamentary committee on official languages in English.
The Member is representative of her generation, for whom language is a matter of personal preference. A communication tool relieved of its identity value.
Last week, a Léger poll reported that the majority of 18-34 year olds (58%) do not care about being greeted in English in downtown Montreal businesses. This explains why French as the sole host language has declined over the past 10 years (from 84% to 75%). It’s simple, the question leaves them indifferent.
On Wednesday, the Bloc promised to reintroduce its citizenship bill. It would be a “test” to see if the Liberals really want to protect French. In fact, it mostly looks like a planned failure – the Liberals rejected the idea last year.
To become a Canadian citizen, one currently needs “sufficient knowledge” of English or French. The Bloc would like French to become compulsory in Quebec. This is also what the Caquists proposed during the last election campaign.
This measure was defended among others by town planner Mario Polèse, known for his nuanced analyzes of language.
Read Mario Polèse’s letter https://www.lapresse.ca/debats/opinions/2020-10-28/promotion-du-francais-au-quebec/si-ottawa-veut-vraiment-donner-un-coup- inch. php
A liberal about-face seems unlikely. But as long as the Trudeau government does not have a concrete proposal, the Bloc can claim that its defense of French is just a posture.
In Quebec, even if the CAQ players do not have the same pressure, expectations are starting to rise. This will not displease Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who must convince the economic ministers of his government.
For now, the return of French is mainly seen in the lyrics. This already has a merit – the Liberals remind everyone that the defense of French is still relevant and legitimate.
But this approach will eventually reach its limits. It’s all well and good to worry, but what’s the point if it doesn’t lead to anything concrete, apart from the relief of admitting your bad conscience?