Imagine you are at your desk at work and are being interrupted by a government inspector who demands that you hand over computer files and other documents. They won’t explain what they’re looking for or why they’re there, and they don’t have a warrant from a judge, because they don’t need one.
They’re only there because someone has filed a complaint about an alleged violation of Quebec’s language laws. And they can inspect at any time of the day they deem fit and go to any place other than accommodation.
According to several business groups and legal experts, the Office is set to acquire such broad powers under Québécois de la langue française (OQLF) Bill 96, a proposed reform of the French-language province charter by the Quebec government, aka. Bill 101.
Bill 96 is best known outside Quebec for the fact that, once adopted, it would unilaterally insert two clauses into the Canadian Constitution that state that Quebec forms a nation, and that its sole The official language is French.
But in Quebec, Bill 96 – which is going through committee hearings in the National Assembly this week – has raised concerns about its effects on Montreal, the province’s economic powerhouse, and its most diverse region.
Of course, no one is actually saying they oppose Bill 96; It is political suicide. Montreal’s mayor, Valerie Plante, made sure to declare herself an “ally” of the bill at a committee hearing this week, before asking that the city’s 3-1-1 telephone information service be exempted from the proposed amendment. Will allow new immigrants to communicate only in English for the first six months after their arrival.
He pointed out oddly that it would be difficult to determine on the phone how long a person speaking English had been in Quebec or Canada, and that six months was too little time for someone to converse in a new language. .
Others walked the same line this week. Michel LeBlanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, said the government was right to protect the French language.
But he also noted that the provision in Bill 96 that would require knowledge of a language other than French would make it more difficult because of the hiring conditions Montreal’s ability to attract and retain companies operating in international markets. can cause damage.
“If Montreal wants to be on the cutting edge in special effects in the video game industry, if we want to be part of the dynamic that attracts pan-Canadian or international business headquarters, we have to find a way to accept that language. [international] business is English,” he told La Presse.
This is the political trap that Premier François Legault has set up with Bill 96. He has cleverly positioned himself as the chief defender of the French-language province, and is completely under control for any debate.
Opposition liberals, whose seats are almost entirely in Greater Montreal, and who need to attract francophone voters to the rest of the province, if they ever hope to form a government again, feel they have the right to the bill. Have no choice but to support – even if it would negatively affect many of their voters in real ways.
And the Parti Québécois, which adopted the original charter of the French language in 1977, is so short in elections that its opposition is so low that the bill barely registers.
Mr Legault is heading into an election year, and the bill will be passed into law due this fall, thanks to his party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, with an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.
Which means the details of the bill are likely to be less important for Mr Legault than the message he sends to voters. He really doesn’t want to see midnight raids on businesses that fail to meet every letter of the law, or make it harder for Montreal to attract foreign investment and talent.
But so long as he defines the debate, there is little one can do to present a counterargument without risking the appearance of not demonstrating sufficient integrity to require the defense of the French language.
Bill 96 is not a great law. But it bodes well for Mr. Legault.
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