Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault is defending his government’s language-law reform as “balanced” amid renewed criticism from business leaders that it will do enormous damage to the economy.
On Day 4 of Quebec’s election campaign, Legault remained undeterred by businesses that say the new law is making it harder to recruit talent.
“I think that Bill 96 is a balanced bill and it’s important to have a balanced bill; it’s important to protect French, and French will always be vulnerable in North America,” Legault told reporters Wednesday during a campaign stop in Mont-St-Gregoire, Que.
Nearly 160 CEOs and other top executives at Quebec companies have signed an open letter calling for the implementation of Bill 96 to be suspended. They say the legislation “imposes an unrealistic deadline” on new immigrants to learn French and that while the government has promised a new agency to help newcomers learn the language, it will come too late.
By the time the agency is created, “the law will already have discouraged global workers from choosing Quebec as a new place to build a life and grow a family.”
“Quebec’s new language law is threatening to do enormous damage to the province’s economy.”
The law, adopted by Legault’s government in late May, extends certain provisions of Quebec’s existing language law to businesses of 25 or more employees. Those provisions had only applied to businesses with 50 or more employees. It also requires new immigrants to communicate with the government exclusively in French after they’ve been in the province for six months.
Legault said most governments provide information to newcomers in the local language, adding that immigrants can get help with translation if they need it.
For businesses, Legault said, there will be a three-year transition period. “They’ll have the time to adjust,” he said. “It’s important to have the two objectives: yes, create wealth, but yes, also protect French.”
Legault said only 56 per cent of workers in Montreal are working in French. “We have to be careful about the language of the people working in Montreal,” he added.
First published in June by the Council of Canadian Innovators with 37 signatures, the letter has since been signed by 122 additional executives. Signatories include Louis Tetu, CEO of Quebec City-based software company Coveo, which employs more than 700 people; Eric Boyko, CEO of Stingray, which owns several music television channels and more than 100 radio stations; and Antoine Amiel, CEO of glasses retailer New Look.
“The overwhelming majority of Quebec technology companies participate in international markets, and work with global, multidisciplinary teams,” the letter said. “Legal requirements that force companies to operate primarily in French impose an extra burden when working with customers and partners all around the world.”
During the stop in Mont-St-Grégoire, Legault promised to cap increases in government-set hydro rates, daycare fees and university tuition at three per cent a year. The town, southeast of Montreal, is in the electoral district of Iberville — a riding the party won in 2018 but then lost after its member joined the Conservatives.
Claire Samson, who was booted from the CAQ in June 2021 after it learned she had donated $100 to the Conservatives under leader Eric Duhaime, gave the Conservatives their only seat in the legislature.
Meanwhile, the Parti Québécois promised to help Quebecers fight inflation with a temporary and targeted allowance of $1,200 for people making less than $50,000 and of $750 for people making between $50,000 and $80,000.
The left-of-centre Québec solidaire party promised an additional $5.3 billion for public transit projects in the Quebec City region, while Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, during a stop in St-Agapit, Que., south of Quebec City, encouraged people who say they were the victims of sexual misconduct by Win Butler, the leader of Montreal-based band Arcade Fire, to make formal complaints.