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Quebec plans to expand French language law to federally regulated businesses

Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA Simon Jolin-Barrette said he wants to expand the province's French language charter to federally regulated corporations in Quebec.
Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA Simon Jolin-Barrette said he wants to expand the province's French language charter to federally regulated corporations in Quebec. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

In Quebec, federal companies such as banks or VIA Rail will soon be subject to the province’s language law, known as Bill 101, and the government will also communicate exclusively in French with those businesses.

These are two of the measures outlined in a linguistic action plan to be presented by Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language in Quebec, in the coming weeks.

Jolin-Barrette promised a “strong” action plan Tuesday during the study of the 2020-2021 budget spending for the defence and promotion of the French language.

When pressed by opposition parties, however, he refused to commit to reopening Bill 101 to ensure those changes have the force of law.

READ MORE: 40% of Quebec companies want their employees to have English language skills: poll

He simply said that doing so was possible and that he intended to present a new comprehensive, coherent policy, which will be accompanied by concrete measures.

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Jolin-Barrette did promise to find a way to impose the same French-language requirements on federally chartered companies.

“It would be wise for companies under federal jurisdiction to be subject to the Charter of the French language,” he said, adding “Quebecers have the right to work in French.”

“We are looking at the different modalities that could be put forward. I am not excluding anything at this stage,” he said.

Quebec’s Bill 101, adopted in 1977, requires businesses with more than 50 employees to adopt a francization program. They must also prove that French is the working language of their companies.

Jolin-Barrette said he also intends to “go ahead” with the project to impose the exclusive use of French in communications between state bodies and businesses and legal persons.

Click to play video 'Quebecers mark 40 years of Bill 101' Quebecers mark 40 years of Bill 101
Quebecers mark 40 years of Bill 101 – Aug 26, 2017

In order to do this, the province will have to decree article one of Bill 104 into effect. While the law was adopted by the Parti Quebecois government in 2002, no government since has proclaimed it to take effect.

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Jolin-Barrette said he also intends to ensure that each government department or agency adopts and enforces a language policy that complies with the province.

He argues that linguistic rules are enforced loosely from one ministry to another and said the government should “lead by example.”

The future language policy touted by Jolin-Barette will focus on companies with 25 to 49 employees, which are not currently required to adopt francization programs. However, it’s not clear whether Quebec intends to impose on them the same requirements as those in place for companies with 50 or more employees.

Quebec Premier François Legault has said in the past the mandatory francization process would have been too heavy a bureaucratic burden for businesses with 25 to 49 employees.

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

When it comes to the organizations overseeing linguistic issues, Jolin-Barrette said he was reflecting on the future of the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (CSLF).

He said French must “become the common language again” in Quebec and that he particularly concerned about the situation in Montreal, where he claims bilingualism is flourishing.

“Montreal must be the locomotive of French in Quebec,” he said.

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