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Quebec government’s moves to protect French language spark debate amid pandemic

Click to play video: 'Quebec says protecting French language a priority' Quebec says protecting French language a priority
WATCH: The national assembly in Quebec has declared that protecting the French language is essential and must be a priority, even during a pandemic – Sep 23, 2020

Quebec’s national assembly has passed a motion to affirm the importance of protecting the French language.

Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader Pascal Bérubé’s motion asked that the national assembly declare that the protection of the French language is essential and a priority at all times, even during a pandemic.

The motion also asks the federal government again to make sure the French Charter also applies to companies of federal jurisdiction.

It comes amid backlash over a multi-million-dollar investment in the Office québécois de la langue Française (OQLF), Quebec’s so-called “language police.”

Read more: Quebec plans to expand French language law to federally regulated businesses

The CAQ recently announced plans to reinforce efforts by the OQLF, including hiring more inspectors. The goal is to crack down on businesses that don’t comply with Bill 101.

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The investment has sparked spirited debates.

Read more: Quebec introduces new resources to enforce French language laws

“In Québec when businesses will go bankrupt, we’ll make sure they do it in French,” tweeted Montreal comedian Sugar Sammy.

His comment ignited criticism from people such as Journal de Montreal columnist Sophie Durocher, who considered his “joke” a bad and scornful commentary on Quebec.

Click to play video: 'Free French classes for all Quebecers?' Free French classes for all Quebecers?
Free French classes for all Quebecers? – Dec 4, 2019

At the national assembly, the language debate spilled over into the hallways.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade was interrupted by a reporter when she was giving a statement in English right after she gave the same statement in French.

“Know that’s not done,” said Louis Lacroix, a reporter with 98.5 F.M.

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For some, a language debate might seem oddly planted in the middle of a pandemic, when some believe health should take precedence.

But a language debate amid a pandemic might be part of a bigger political strategy.

Read more: 40% of Quebec companies want their employees to have English language skills, poll finds

Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), said there are reasons for the timing.

Béland said recent polls show that there is a renewed sense of worry about the future of the French language in Quebec.

“They basically focus on their base because they know their re-election will be about maintaining their support among francophone voters, especially older francophone voters,” Béland said.

Béland says the Parti Québécois is competing with the CAQ for the attention of those francophone voters.

–With files from Global’s Raquel Fletcher

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