Premier Philippe Couillard was forced to do some major damage control Thursday.
A week after the government voted in favour of a motion denouncing the popular “bonjour-hi” greeting, Couillard spoke out to the English community during Question Period.
“Although French is our official language, the English language is not a foreign language in Quebec,” he said in English. He later added in French that he had underestimated the reaction from English-speaking Quebecers.
It’s not often the premier speaks English in Question Period, but he’s hoping his words will have an impact. Anglophone Quebecers are still angry the government voted for a motion that denounces “bonjour-hi.”
The Parti Quebecois (PQ) brought the motion forward last week.
“I set the oldest trap in the book,” said PQ leader, Jean-François Lisée.
And he knew the Liberals would walk right into it, Lisée gloated at a press conference Thursday afternoon. He said he was testing the Liberals’ language policy.
“Publicly, he couldn’t say he didn’t want it, so he had to vote for it, even though he didn’t like it, so what we’re doing here is show to everyone the hypocrisy of the Liberal government on linguistic issues,” Lisée said.
The PQ leader continued, “Clearly there are contradictions within the Liberal party, and I simply showed to everyone … when they pretend to further French, it’s a façade.”
Knowing the premier underestimated how his vote would be received by Quebec’s anglophone population, Lisée took advantage of the fiasco by bringing up the subject again in Thursday’s Question Period.
The premier appeared prepared for the question, reading in English off a piece of paper.
“To our English-speaking fellow Quebecers, again there are no different classes of Quebecers here, only one, first class. And English-speaking Quebecers are first-class Quebecers like all of us,” he said.
On Wednesday, the relations with English-speaking Quebecers minister tried to calm the storm after the negative attention and national headlines the motion created.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what happened,” said Kathleen Weil.
Some anglophones thought her explanation — that the motion was amended to take out the word “irritant” — was condescending, but Montreal Gazette columnist, Dan Delmar said the blame lies squarely on the premier.
“He should have just shelved the whole idea. He doesn’t need the support of linguistic fundamentalists. They are never going to vote for him anyway, so this whole exercise that he correctly described as a potential new “pastagate” is really just for nothing,” Delmar said.