New law imperils English in suburbs

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Henry Aubin: New law imperils English in suburbs

Loss of bilingual status is a devastating blow and a barrier to business


The Marois government’s proposed law to tighten the Charter of the French Language would deal a truly devastating blow to most of the 65 municipalities in Quebec that possess official bilingual status. The bill would strip this designation from a town if fewer than 50 per cent of its residents have English as their mother tongue.

Six of the 12 suburbs on Montreal Island that now offer services in French and English would lose the legal ability to continue to do so in English. They are Côte-St-Luc, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Dorval, Kirkland, Mont-Royal and Senneville. (See table.)

Four other suburbs, whose English mother-tongue residents are steadily declining and now represent less than 55 per cent of the population, are on course to falling under the threshold within a few years. They are Baie d’Urfé, Beaconsfield, Pointe-Claire and Westmount. Hampstead and Montreal West, both of which are near the 60-per-cent mark, are safer ground. (The island’s two remaining suburbs, Montréal-Est and Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, do not have bilingual status.)

Municipalities not on the island would tend to lose their status at a considerably higher rate. Many of these mostly rural towns or villages have aging anglo communities.

(The government would determine whether a city or town is above or below the 50 per cent bar on the basis of Statistic Canada’s census. However, it is unclear how the government would define people with English as their mother tongue. Most people have only one language as their mother tongue, but others list two or even more on the census form, depending the circumstances of their infancy. The table gives figures for both options.)

The proposed law, Bill 14, tabled this week by the minister responsible for language, Diane De Courcy, comes completely out of the blue. It’s been a long time since language has been a notable issue in the island’s suburbs or in the more distant places. You have to wonder what the problem is that De Courcy set out to fix.

To be sure, the presence of English has become a hot political issue, but that controversy has been confined do Montreal’s central core, especially the shopping areas. De Courcy’s measure gives the core a free pass — the bill can’t revoke Montreal’s bilingual status because the city doesn’t have one.

Removing the suburbs’ bilingual standing would also be curious because it would reduce the attractiveness of Montreal for knowledge workers from English-speaking countries. When they move here, these workers often choose to live in a bilingual suburb where — as is only normal — they feel more linguistically hospitable.

The Mercer 2012 Quality of Living Index of cities — an annual ranking to help multinational companies and organizations make decisions — came out the day before De Courcy tabled the bill. It rated Montreal well behind Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. If the minority government succeeds in making Bill 14 law, it’s not going to help the economy.

Peter Trent, the Westmount mayor and leader of the island’s suburban mayors, is a moderate on language issues. He calls the measure “completely unacceptable” to anglo communities. As well, he notes an additional curiosity about the bill: “It wouldn’t help the cause of preserving French one jot.”

Trent notes a final curiosity about the bill: Those suburbs whose majority of English mother-tongue residents are rapidly shrinking might have no interest in attracting those newcomers who would further dilute the English mother-tongue presence. The law might thus have the perverse effect of making francophones unwelcome.

This measure might make short-term political sense: Riling the anglos is often a surefire way to boost the PQ in anglophobes’ eyes.

But as a step to advance the interests of francophones, the bill shoots itself in the foot. In the end, it would harm everybody.

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Lisée building bridges? Is this a joke?

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Ex-journalist has a long history of spearheading and supporting xenophobic campaigns against linguistic minorities






Nobody can say anymore that Pauline Marois hasn’t got a sense of humour.


Not after she assigned Jean-François Lisée on Wednesday to build bridges between her new Parti Québécois government and the English-speaking community.


That has to be Pauline’s prank on her would-be replacement Lisée, or the anglophones, or both, right?


Okay, maybe Marois ran out of things to say to anglos after she read the 30-word, greeting-card message to “my fellow English-speaking Quebecers (sic)” written out for her in her election-night victory speech.


But surely Marois can’t think that, of the 54 members of her PQ caucus, Lisée is the best candidate to gain our trust for her.


If the new premier is really that clueless, then anglos aren’t the only Quebecers who should be worried.


Those bridges Lisée is supposed to build? They’re to replace ones he’s done so much to blow up.


The PQ’s idea of making newcomers to Quebec, even Canadian citizens moving here from other provinces, pass a French test before they can run for even an English school board? It was Lisée who proposed it first.


Or how about the PQ’s proposed “new Bill 101,” which would restrict admission to English-language colleges?


Pfft. Two years ago, Lisée proposed abolishing the English CEGEPs entirely.


You’re a bilingual anglo? Not good enough for Lisée.


Last November, he invited readers of his blog to report encounters with the diminishing minority of anglos who refuse to learn French.


Then came Lisée’s hatchet job on anglos in L’actualité magazine in April while he was doing double duty as a “journalist,” two months after it was announced he had joined a PQ sovereignty-strategy committee.


That was the “dossier” in which he criticized us for not embracing Bill 101, not defending French in Montreal against ourselves and, in the privacy of our own homes, not listening to the pop music of Marie-Mai.


Once he became a PQ candidate for the Sept. 4 election, Lisée became the party’s leading spokesman in its xenophobic campaign against linguistic minorities.


In a PQ communiqué titled “With a Parti Québécois government, Montreal will remain predominantly French-speaking,” Lisée, now the minister in Marois’s government responsible for the city, said:


“We refuse to be the generation that will see Montreal marginalize French! We shall not accept that francophones soon are in the minority on the island and we shall not let French lose its critical mass in Quebec’s metropolis.”


Does that read as anglo-friendly to you?




“While we should be glad at the progress of French as a second language in Montreal, the decline in the proportion of Montrealers for whom French is the language mostly spoken is very worrying.”


That is, it was good that anglos and other linguistic minorities had learned French — but not good enough.


In a radio interview during the campaign, Lisée said the PQ would favour a prospective immigrant from France over one from China, because the one from France “lives in French with their family.”


But even living in French at home wasn’t good enough.


In a communiqué earlier in the campaign, the PQ had expressed concern over declines in the proportion of both Quebecers and Montrealers with French as their mother tongue.


And in another interview that surfaced during the campaign, Lisée said:


“From the moment where there isn’t a majority of people whose first language is French, it means there is no majority to defend it.”


So the only Quebecers who are good enough for Lisée are the ones with French as their mother tongue — which excludes the anglos to whom Marois now would have him build bridges.


Sérieusement, madame la première ministre?




© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette



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Jean Charest takes his leave with class and dignity

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My wife Judy and I join Jean Charest and his wife Michelle for a quaint and personal dinner

As one political era begins with the election of a minority PQ government another fades to black with the exit of Jean Charest after a 28 year stint in federal and provincial politics, the last nine years as Premier of Quebec.

Jean Charest is described by many who have met him personally as a likable, sincere and interesting character with a good sense of humour.  So too was my own experience, having met the Premier on more than one occasion.  Two years ago, my wife and I were invited to a friend’s home for an elegant dinner with three other couples.  One of those couples happened to be Jean Charest and Michelle Dion.  What a unique and privileged opportunity to spend a few informal hours over dinner and wine with Quebec’s first couple.

We kibbitzed, laughed and questioned one another on so many subjects.  How did they meet? How did we meet? What music do they like?  Favourite vacation destinations? Visits with foreign leaders. Views on Quebec identity, economy, education, health and so much more.  The Charests made everyone feel at ease and were interested in each of us as much as we were in them.  It was a memorable, entertaining and educational evening and ended with a personal invitation from the Premier to come visit him in Quebec City with our families.

We may not have agreed with every position  Jean Charest has taken.  Indeed, so many Anglos expressed a sense of frustration during this campaign (and previous ones).  I wish he would have spoken up more for the rights of the English-speaking community and loosened some of the despised, restrictive language laws.  But such is politics in Quebec and surely it is no easy job being the Premier of this province.

But one thing is for sure.  Jean Charest served the public during these 28 years in politics with determination, integrity and a strong sense of purpose.  His belief in a strong Quebec in a united Canada was proven beyond a doubt.  He can take enormous credit for playing a pivotal role in saving the country in 1995.  His jump to provincial politics was more like a call to serve where he was needed most.

Jean Charest with George Nashen during a 1993 election stop in Cote Saint-Luc

We haven’t seen the last of Jean Charest.  He’ll be back to play an important role in the future of this country and we’ll all be better off for his contribution to society.

So, thank you, Jean, for all of your positive contributions to Quebec and to Canada.  Your concession speech, on your 28th anniversary of entering politics as a rookie MP, was classy, respectful and highly dignified.   You tried your best to please as many as you could. You exit politics with great distinction.  Good luck with all the lies ahead for you and your family.  But don’t go too far.  Quebec and Canada  still need you, Jean.

Quebec should be the envy of the world: Letter to the editor, Montreal Gazette

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Robert Libman strikes a chord with many Quebecers who have endured decades of mean-spirited Anglo-bashing (Anglophones have absolutely nothing to apologize for, Montreal Gazette, Apr. 18, 2012). English-speaking Quebecers are living under very different circumstances today than when the restrictive and loathsome legislation was brought in some 30 years ago.

The facts speak for themselves: English schools continue to close, businesses are pressured into compliance by the dreaded OQLF tongue-troopers and anonymous snitches, bilingual institutions and municipalities are under constant threat by shifting demographics and English-language services are increasingly rare in outlying regions, for example. The economic cost on the community and the province has been severe and the personal toll on thousands of families has been painful.

How unproductive and sad that our political atmosphere remains stuck in an artificial and cruel linguistic pressure cooker.

Just think how much better off we would all be if we channeled our energy into embracing our rich and vibrant cultures, celebrating our ability to speak many languages, and appreciating how fortunate we are to live in an extraordinarily beautiful province. We should be the envy of the world.

Glenn J. Nashen
City Councillor, Cote Saint-Luc
Former Executive Director, Alliance Quebec