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Quebec politicians rail against ‘English week’ at French-language CEGEP

Quebec Premier François Legault responds to the Opposition during question period Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec politicians are railing against a Quebec City junior college's decision to host a weeklong event promoting English. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec politicians on Wednesday railed against a Quebec City junior college’s decision to host a weeklong event promoting English, suggesting the initiative undermines efforts to protect French.

The ongoing “English Week 2023” is a five-day event at French-language Cegep Garneau to encourage students and teachers to practice the language.

“The Language Department invites the entire Cegep Garneau community to speak English,” the event description on the college’s online news page reads. “The important thing is to have fun in English!”

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Several politicians said the initiative is inappropriate amid efforts to counter the influence of English in the province, though news of the college event initially elicited contradictory reactions from ministers.

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“It’s not a problem because there are activities promoting French in a francophone institution,” Minister of the French Language Jean-François Roberge told reporters in Quebec City. He said that if a francophone junior college was only hosting English events, “then we would have a problem.”

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But moments later, Higher Education Minister Pascale Dery decried the event, telling reporters that students are having enough trouble mastering French and “English doesn’t need a showcase in Quebec.” She called on Cegep Garneau to instead focus on the promotion of Quebec’s only official language.

A little later in the day, Premier François Legault made the government’s position clear: English week, he said, is “not a good idea.”

“There’s already enough English among young people in general in Quebec,” he told reporters.

His comment echoed those from opposition party members, who denounced the event. Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon pointed to what he called Quebec students’ constant exposure to English-language content through social media and streaming services.

“I don’t understand Cegep Garneau’s decision,” he told a news conference. “We’re faced with a standardization of culture in English by the American-British axis. Do we need to add to this when French is in decline in Quebec?”

Ruba Ghazal, language critic for leftist opposition party Québec solidaire, called the decision to host an English-centric event “a little clumsy” given the widespread influence of the language in the province.

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In a statement posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Cegep Garneau said it is committed to promoting French, including during its upcoming francophone literature week. As well, the college said it’s home to a learning centre for students struggling with French.

The aim of English week, the college explained, is to develop students’ English skills in line with government curriculum requirements.

“Like all (junior colleges), Cegep Garneau fulfils the mandates entrusted to it by the Higher Education Department,” the school said.

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