Official languages commissioner concerned by Quebec’s plan to expand Bill 101 to federal businesses

Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Theberge, speaks during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Raymond Théberge, Canada’s commissioner of official languages, says he has reservations about the desire of Quebec and three federal parties to extend the application of the province’s French language charter — commonly known as Bill 101 — to businesses in Quebec that are under federal jurisdiction.

“The question I ask myself is: what will be the impact of this decision?” asked the commissioner in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

The Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party and, more recently, the Conservative Party have all expressed their agreement with the Quebec government’s intention to subject companies under federal jurisdiction — such as banks or Via Rail — to Bill 101.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language in Quebec, has touted this aspect as part of a plan to strengthen French in the province.

READ MORE: Quebec plans to expand French language law to federally regulated businesses

If this plan goes ahead, French would become the language of use in all businesses in Quebec with more than 50 employees.

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Théberge says he will wait to see the final product before making a decision.

“It is important to recognize that we have two official languages ​​and that we need strong communities, whether they are official language communities outside Quebec or in Quebec,” he said.

Is he afraid that other provinces will decide to follow Quebec’s example and impose English-only rules on companies under federal jurisdiction in their provinces?

“I think that’s what we need to study,” he said.

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CAQ government reiterates use of French and french only at National Assembly – Oct 1, 2020

The Bloc Québécois has already indicated that it will echo the province’s initiative in Ottawa by tabling its own bill. The only sovereigntist party in Ottawa has done this a few times in the past but without success. But this time around, everything indicates that the Bloc would have the support of a majority of parliamentarians.

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This places Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government in a special situation.

In the throne speech in September, it was stated that defending the rights of francophone minorities outside Quebec and the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec is a “priority for the government.”

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

“But the government of Canada must also recognize that the situation of French is special. (…) The government therefore has a responsibility to protect and promote French not only outside Quebec, but also in Quebec,” the speech read.

The office of Pablo Rodriguez, who serves as Trudeau’s political lieutenant for Quebec, maintained that position.

“We continue to look at the best way to protect French in businesses under federal jurisdiction,” said spokesperson Simon Ross in a written statement sent to the Canadian Press.

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