Unsurprisingly, the CAQ government’s overhaul of the province’s language laws, known as Bill 96, was adopted yesterday in the National Assembly with a large majority, 78 votes to 29. The Liberal Party of Quebec and the Conservative Party of Quebec (which has only one MNA, who was elected under the CAQ banner in 2018) voted against the bill, objecting to the sweeping use of the notwithstanding clause, as well as the restriction of minority language rights. The Parti Québécois also voted against the bill, but for the opposite reason, arguing that it didn’t go far enough in its stated goal of protecting the French language.
Legislation strengthening the province’s existing language laws was a major policy initiative that the CAQ campaigned on in 2018 when they won a resounding majority of seats in the legislature. Bill 96 was first introduced roughly one year ago and has sparked plenty of opposition in the meantime.
Pontiac MNA André Fortin spoke with CHIP 101.9 from Quebec City shortly after the vote was held to discuss how this legislation would impact the Pontiac, which has a large population of English-speakers.
Fortin said that the most sweeping change that would impact the daily lives of Quebecers would be in their interactions with various government services, as they would require proof that they qualify to communicate in English.
He said that access to health care services in English is another major area of concern. The government has repeatedly assured English-speaking citizens that nothing would change in that regard, pointing to exemptions in the bill for the administration of health care and justice. However, the President of the Quebec College of Physicians, Dr. Mauril Gaudreault, has stated that the bill leaves legal “grey areas and creates reason for concern about future patients’ options to converse in the language of their choice with the person providing them with care.” Fortin added that other sections of the bill will restrict requiring knowledge of English in the hiring process, which could also impact access to care in the long term.
Fortin pointed out that the new law would give unprecedented powers to the Office québécois de la langue française, commonly referred to as the language police, including the ability to search company’s computers or cell phones without a warrant to ensure that they are operating in French. Large companies in Quebec were already mandated to make French the language of business, but under Bill 96, the rules would extend to any business with 25 employees or more.
The full interview with Fortin is available here.