As the world laughs about the kerfuffle known as “pastagate,” Quebecers are shaking their heads in dismay as the Parti Québécois government pushes ahead with changes to Quebec’s language law. There is a lot wrong with Bill 14, even as the Pauline Marois regime has softened its hard line and may have to do more, to survive as a minority government.
The PQ has dropped its plan to extend restrictions on English schooling to CEGEPs, depriving allophones and francophones of the right to expand their linguistic and cultural horizons by attending an English school. Instead, it proposes to give priority to anglo students before considering graduates of French high schools. This is plainly discriminatory, gives preference to less qualified students and ghettoizes our colleges instead of allowing them to remain open and competitive.
Instead of leaving it up to local citizens, it proposes to allow Quebec by executive decree to remove a town’s bilingual status when the proportion of mother-tongue English speakers dips below 50 per cent. For reasons of tradition, common courtesy and respect for those who speak and use English in their everyday life, there is no reason to wield the big stick to interfere in the local affairs of 85 municipalities where anglos constitute less than half the population that are pleased to offer services in two languages.
Extending the obligation to function in French to businesses with 26 employees, from 50, will impose additional costs and hardships on the small and medium-sized enterprises that are essential motors of this beleaguered economy. They may not operate totally in French, but many use French in some of their communications. More red tape and language cops will not help keep smaller firms here or attract new ones.
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The French Language Charter, as challenging as it has been for anglophones, has brought a relative level of linguistic peace to the province. It was necessary in the late 1970s and French here has never been healthier. We believe the carrot, not the stick is the way. The world is laughing at pastagate, but language cops’ excessive zeal is no joke.