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Quebec is set to present its long-awaited revamped language law. Here’s what to expect

Montreal

The proposed legislation comes after a number of studies from Quebec's French-language watchdog found that the French language is in decline in the province.

Quebec Premier François Legault, left, and Simon Jolin-Barrette, responsible for the French language, have spoken of the need to bolster laws to protect the French language.(Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government is set to present a plan aimed at strengthening the province's landmark language law, known as Bill 101.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the province's minister responsible for the French language, first hinted last fall that changes were coming. The bill is to be tabled later Thursday morning.

Premier François Legault has indicated that his Coalition Avenir Québec government will invoke the notwithstanding clause, a tool to override certain sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to change rules around signage.

"If we really believe in the common language that is French, if we really believe that this language is vulnerable … we have to take action," Legault said in April.

The notwithstanding clause, Section 33 of the charter, allows provinces to override certain basic rights guaranteed in the document. It has rarely been used since it was introduced in 1982 and has usually been invoked only in response to a court decision.

The revamped law is expected to include, among other things, a cap on the number of francophone and allophone students allowed to attend English CÉGEPs, stricter rules for commercial signage and a review of the list of bilingual municipalities and boroughs.

Studies show decline in French language in Quebec

The new legislation comes after a number of studies from Quebec's French-language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), that found the French language is in decline in the province.

A 2018 study projected that the percentage of Quebecers who speak French at home will drop from 82 per cent in 2011 to about 75 per cent in 2036.

Quebec's language laws and identity have long been a source of tension in the province. Bill 101, adopted in 1977 by René Léveque's Parti Québécois government, was a bid to bolster and protect the French language in Quebec. It makes French the sole official language of the government, courts and workplaces.(Ron Poling/The Canadian Press)

The second study, also completed in 2018, examined language spoken in workplaces.

It found that a quarter of Montreal employees surveyed said they use French and English equally at work, and only 18.7 per cent said they speak French exclusively at work.

Quebec's opposition parties have voiced their support for stronger language reforms.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the House leader for Québec solidaire, said the reforms are about protecting and promoting the French language — not picking on anglophone communities.

"The debate around French is not necessarily a divisive debate," Nadeau-Dubois said.

"It can be a unifying debate for Quebec society. I know that a lot of young anglophones in my generation totally agree with the spirit of Bill 101."

Bill 101 a 'watershed' moment

The original law, adopted in 1977 by René Léveque's Parti Québécois government, was a bid to bolster and protect the French language in Quebec.

Bill 101, or the Charter of the French Language, makes French the sole official language of the Quebec government, courts and workplaces.

It includes restrictions on the use of English on outdoor commercial signage and forces all children to study in French, except those of adults who studied in English in Canada.

Lorraine O'Donnell, a Quebec historian who runs the Quebec English-Speaking Communities Research Network, said the original Bill 101 has had a lasting impact.

"Bill 101 is seen as a watershed moment in Quebec history," she said. "It has marked the consciousness and the perspective of English-speaking Quebec."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate McKenna is a journalist with CBC Montreal. Email her at kate.mckenna@cbc.ca.

With files from Cathy Senay and The Canadian Press

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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