Quebec premier’s alleged comment about West Island ‘shameful’: Liberal MNAs

Click to play video: 'War of words at the National Assembly' War of words at the National Assembly
WATCH: David Birnbaum, MNA for the riding of D'Arcy McGee, is up in arms following a comment he claims he heard Premier François Legault make on Wednesday, in regards to anglophone West Islanders. As Global's Olivia O'Malley explains, immigration and language remain hot-button issues at the National Assembly – Jun 2, 2022

The language debate continues in the Quebec provincial legislature where Liberal MNA Saul Polo was presenting a motion during Wednesday’s question period, in part, to acknowledge that language spoken at home should remain a personal choice.

While he was doing so his colleague David Birnbaum claims he heard Quebec Premier François Legault say, off-microphone, “Ah, c’est le West Island qui s’énerve.”

Roughly translated it means, “It’s (Montreal’s) West Island that gets angry.” The West Island is historically home to the city’s anglophones, but now is home to a plurality of multilingual residents.

“This is the premier of all Quebecers. Not some bleacher bum sitting in the seats at a baseball game in the back row,” Birnbaum told Global News.

The alleged remark Birnbaum calls “shameful,” comes as the premier continues to defend Bill 96 to protect and strengthen the French language in the province.

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The D’Arcy McGee MNA agrees there is a need to protect the French language, but says it’s outrageous for the premier to question what language people speak at home.

“That’s profoundly insulting. So many of those new Quebecers are striving to master French. So many of them, like my colleague Saul Polo, who lives his public life in French,” said Birnbaum.

“What he does at home, and proudly so, is his business and all Quebecers feel that way.”

Legault declined to speak to Global News about the alleged comment. But the Coalition Avenir Québec MNA who is responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers is defending the premier.

Christopher Skeete says Legault, who hails from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in the West Island, respects all anglophones.

“I think we’re seeing the end of the parliamentary session. Emotions are fraught on all sides and we should just let the debate continue,” said Skeete.

Legault has said he wants full powers for immigration, suggesting newcomers who don’t speak French are a threat to the language’s survival.

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Polo has shared his personal story at the National Assembly multiple times this week. He moved from Colombia 30 years ago. He speaks French in public and Spanish at home.

“My example is not just a perfect example, it’s the actual example of the vast majority of new immigrants. New Quebecers that come to Quebec,” said Polo.

He says Legault’s lack of sensitivity towards immigrants is hurtful, and the government has no business trying to control language spoken at home.

“Whatever happens at home it’s none of his business,” he said.

Immigration will likely continue as an election issue.

In the end, MNAs did not vote on Polo’s motion.

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