Quebec Premier François Legault’s use and definition of the term “historic English-speaking community” is cause for concern, according to some in the province’s anglophone community.
Legault used the term during his inaugural speech on Tuesday where he outlined his government’s priorities after proroguing the province’s legislature.
In his speech, Legault spoke of Bill 96, calling it the most important piece of legislation since Bill 101 to bolster the French language in Quebec.
“I want to speak to the historic English-speaking community of Quebec,” he began.
“You are an integral part of Quebec. As a historic community you have your own institutions — schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, the media. Canada’s francophone minorities dream of mastering so many institutions.”
He then added that no other minority in the country is better served than the English-speaking community in Quebec.
“And we are proud of that.”
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade called his speech patronizing.
The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), an English rights advocacy group, agreed.
“The reaction that I’m hearing from English-speaking Quebecers is that it was a self-serving few seconds,” said QCGN director general Sylvia Martin-Laforge, “speaking to us and telling us we were the best treated minority in Canada.”
She added there was no attempt at outreach.
“It was telling us who we are once again, who we are and what we should be,” Martin-Laforge said.
On Wednesday, during a press conference, the premier was asked to clarify what he meant by “historic English-speaking community.”
“It’s defined in the Bill 101,” Legault answered. “It’s people who learned English or went to English schools in Canada.”
The answer is problematic, according to Martin-Laforge, because it limits who is considered part of the English-speaking community.
“They have a policy expectation around a definition of what is a historic anglophone,” Martin-Laforge said.
The fear is that access to services could be curtailed for those who identify as part of the English-speaking community but don’t qualify as part of the “historic” community.
“In health care, as with any other service, that eliminates from three to five hundred thousand English-speaking Quebecers,” Martin-Laforge said.
When asked if a person coming to Quebec from Jamaica, for example, would be eligible to receive services in English in the health system, Legault sidestepped the question.
“Like it is right now, somebody coming from Jamaica even if they speak English, they have to send their children to French schools,” he said.
“Again, it’s a question of survival for French in Québec.”
Bill 96 has yet to be passed into law, with parliamentary hearings having wrapped up on Oct. 8.
The QCGN is asking for the bill to be withdrawn, arguing it will do nothing to promote and protect the French language in Quebec.