It’s no longer 50 per cent, but 40 per cent — and even then, it’s not automatic.

Quebec’s minister responsible for the anglophone community, Jean-François Lisée, said he has convinced his cabinet colleagues of the need to soften the rules under which a municipality loses its official bilingual status under the Charter of the French Language.

“I argued with others that it should not be at 50 (per cent),” Lisée said following a speech to the Jeune chambré de commerce de Montréal on Monday.

“It should be at 40. I felt it was important to make it rather difficult to take away the status, which is worth a lot.”

Last week, the Parti Québécois government tabled a new Charter of the French Language in the National Assembly. Among many other points, Bill 14 gives the government the power to revoke a city or town’s bilingual status should it no longer have 50 per cent of its population speaking English as a mother tongue.

The clause, a long-standing demand of PQ hardline militants, has raised concern in the anglophone community.

Lisée, who is also the minister responsible for Montreal, raised the issue himself at the end of his speech.

He told the crowd he wanted take advantage of the forum to answer a question about the matter posed by Westmount Mayor Peter Trent, who was in the crowd.

“Some understood there would be an automatic reaction that if a city fell below 50 per cent it would lose this status,” Lisée said. “It is not the case.

“This was discussed at the inter-ministerial committee and it was decided there should be a threshold where it happens, but certainly not 50, certainly not 49, certainly not 47.

“So we decided if a city reached 40 per cent or less, there would not be an automatic reaction. At 40 per cent or less there would be a discussion. There would be a committee to determine is this a permanent tendency, is it temporary, is it fluctuating?

“It’s not because a bilingual city, in a particular year, has lost one per cent of its non-francophone population (that it would lose its status.)

“This is something much more pragmatic, more fluid, more open to discussion and to a heritage which is important in my mind.”

At a news conference later, Lisée said he’s sorry people did not understand the government’s intention off the top.

With Bill 14 up for consultations and committee hearings in the new year, Lisée urged mayors of municipalities facing such population fluctuations to come and speak their minds.

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In my opinion:

50%?  40%? A discussion?  Let’s call it like it is.  It is narrow-minded, ill-advised and mean-spirited.

The current law, set bilingualism at 1977 rates of non-Francophones in a given city.  And these numbers were grandfathered so that a city couldn’t lose its bilingual status unless the city council asked to have it revoked.

Changing the way we measure language within the population to mother-tongue is a deliberate political maneuver to find the lowest possible denominator in order to have an excuse to take away a city’s bilingual status.  That’s just plain mean.

Taking the decision mechanism away from where we live and from whom we’ve elected locally, and handing it over to the Anglo-dreaded language police is just plain cruel.