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CAQ suggests only ‘historic Anglophones’ in Quebec should have access to services in English

Quebec government House Leader Simon Jolin-Barrette responds to the Opposition during question period Friday, June 14, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. Francois Legault, right, looks on.
Quebec government House Leader Simon Jolin-Barrette responds to the Opposition during question period Friday, June 14, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. Francois Legault, right, looks on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

What is a real Quebec anglophone?

That is the question being bandied about at the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

The question comes after the latest CAQ suggestion: that only “historic Anglophones” in the province should have access to services in English.

Ever since he was named language minister in September, Simon Jolin-Barrette has hinted about toughening up Quebec’s language laws.

READ MORE: Simon Jolin-Barrette takes over Quebec language portfolio in addition to immigration

And while there is strong pressure to extend Bill 101 to small and medium-sized businesses, the government is now saying that too many of its own services are being offered in English.

This follows a new report from the Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française that found many government ministries do not have clear linguistic policies in place and that even when they are in place, there are no clear guidelines on how to use them.

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While it appears the minister wants to ensure that immigrants use French in dealing with the government — for example, for hydro bills or driver’s licence testing — the CAQ is promising that “historic Anglophones” will not be affected.

Potential for new language debate brewing at the National Assembly
Potential for new language debate brewing at the National Assembly

The premier attempted to clarify the definition on Tuesday.

“As per … Bill 101, if your parents went to the English school, you have rights in Quebec and we will respect those rights,” said Quebec premier François Legault.

“If you’re a new immigrant, we have to talk with them in French, that’s the difference.”

Liberal MNA Carlos Leitão found the idea laughable and sad at the same time, he said.

“When somebody calls Services Quebec and says, ‘I’m an Anglophone, so please answer my question in English,’ then what?” Leitao questioned.

“They’ll have some sort of secret password, a secret handshake that will identify this person as a real Anglo vis-a-vis someone that is not a real Anglo? It’s a little far-fetched.”

READ MORE: 40 years ago today, the PQ introduced Bill 101 in Quebec

Leitão, who immigrated to Quebec from Portugal as a young man, said the proposed policy shows a certain disconnect between the minister of immigration and society, pointing to his own family as an example.

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“It was relatively easy to learn French and English, no problem. My parents, on the other hand, always struggled with the language.” said Leitão, the province’s former finance minister.

“My mother, to this day, speaks French that is approximate. In the analysis grid of Mr. Barrette, my mother is a failure. She ‘hasn’t been able to ‘integrate,’ I guess. But look at her children.”

Jolin-Barrette says he will table amendments to the language law later this fall.

— With files from Global’s Elysia Bryan-Baynes, Raquel Fletcher and Karen MacDonald