Quebec’s minister of immigration, diversity and inclusion is about to have more on his plate.
Premier François Legault announced a surprise cabinet shuffle Wednesday morning, giving Simon Jolin-Barrette the province’s language file.
“He will be both immigration minister and minister of the French language,” Legault said.
Nathalie Roy, who was previously the Coalition Avenir Québec’s minister for the French language, will still be in charge of the culture and communications file.
The shuffle will strengthen the government’s devotion to protecting and promoting the French language while also bolstering Quebec’s culture, according to Legault.
“We think these changes to the cabinet will allow the government to be stronger, more coherent to work on these two big priorities for a nationalist government,” he said.
During the announcement, Jolin-Barrette says he believes it makes sense to take on the portfolio since he’s been working on the province’s immigration reform.
“I am motivated by this new challenge,” he said. “The French language occupies a vital place in Quebec. It’s our common language, our society’s language.”
The move is being criticized by the province’s opposition parties. The Parti Québécois is concerned about the survival of the French language and some MNAs say they are not impressed by the cabinet shuffle.
Véronique Hivon says the Legault government hasn’t implemented concrete measures to protect the French language.
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Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey says he isn’t sure if it matters who is in charge of the file, but it’s important to know what Jolin-Barrette will do with his new role.
“What I am disturbed by is the notion of opening up Bill 101,” he said. “That’s always been a can of worms.”
Legault, for his part, claims it is too soon to know if the province’s French language charter needs to be reopened. He says his government’s goal is to ensure more immigrants learn French and to make those courses more accessible.
“There will always be an attraction to English so we have to be careful, we have to make sure that Bill 101 is respected,” said Legault. “We have to make sure also that French lessons are available, which is not the case right now, including at work, including at small companies.”
— With files from Global News’ Anne Leclair