Politicians in Quebec are trying to make French speak
FOR OLIVER MAYERS, originally from Montreal, living in a bilingual city is special. “It’s ‘hello-hi’,” he said, referring to the local hybrid greeting. About two-thirds of Montrealers regularly use English at work. “You can do both.”
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Others say you shouldn’t. On May 13, the Coalition Avenir Québec, the conservative party in charge of the National Assembly of Quebec, tabled a bill to strengthen French as the only official language in the province. It is expected to come into effect later this year.
The bill requires businesses to have their posters mostly in French. Companies with 25 or more employees will also have to set up “francization committees” to monitor the use of written and spoken French. Staff who abuse the subjunctive will not be referred to human resources. At least not yet.
New immigrants will have six months to learn the language; after that, all government letters addressed to them will be in French. The bill also seeks to add clauses to parts of the Canadian constitution that refer to Quebec, declaring it a “nation” within a unified Canada.
This is not the only attempt to revive French. On June 15, the federal government proposed a bill to safeguard the language nationwide. On June 20, Nathalie Roy, Minister of Culture of Quebec, announced that most of the music heard during calls to a government organization or in a government building should henceforth be made in Quebec and in French. (When the policy is unveiled, according to the Montreal Gazette, Ms. Roy spoke of a terrible injustice: “I was on hold with the telephone line of the Ministry of Culture and I was surprised to hear an American sing me a little song in English. “)
Few Quebecers claim independence. After two referendums, most Canadians consider the matter closed. But if the Supreme Court rejects the attempt to declare Quebec a nation, it could rekindle a desire for autonomy, thinks John McGarry of Queen’s University in Ontario. Like Quebec, the Spanish region of Catalonia attempted to define itself as a “nation” in regional statutes, but the Constitutional Court held that the term had no legal force.
Meanwhile, the bill has been criticized by indigenous peoples and anglophones. Marie-Claire Lafrenière, an English-speaking mother from Terrebonne, complained that recently, during a drive-thru, she was told to speak French. “I have the impression of living under a dictatorship,” she said, showing the sense of proportion for which Quebec is increasingly famous. ■
This article appeared in the Les Amériques section of the print edition under the title “That they speak only French”