PQ tables weaker-than-planned language bill

QUEBEC – The new Parti Quebecois government has tabled language legislation that appears far milder than what the party recently campaigned on.

The legislation will not extend language restrictions to post-secondary institutions, as the PQ promised in the recent election campaign.

Nor will it extend them to businesses with more than 10 employees.

“We have tabled legislation that is balanced, and responsible,” said Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for the bill tabled Wednesday.

If adopted the bill will, however, introduce French-language requirements for companies with more than 25 employees — which is a lower threshhold than the traditional level of 50 employees.

It also says companies would not be able to require people to speak a language other than French, unless the job specifically required it. It offers a complaints mechanism to people who believe their right to work in French is affected.

De Courcy said it’s “unacceptable” that Quebec goes out of its way to attract immigrants from French-speaking countries, promising them that they can work in French, and that once they arrive some are stunned to discover that they can’t find jobs until they take English lessons.

The government was to hold a news conference to explain, in greater detail, the 36-page bill and its hundreds of articles.

The minority government had been hinting for weeks that its language legislation would be weaker than what it campaigned on because, with well under half the seats in the legislature, the PQ would have been immediately blocked by the opposition if it presented its originally planned bill.

A nationalist push for a new language law has emerged in recent years amid a steady drumbeat of news reports about Montreal companies forcing all employees to hold meetings in English because a minority can’t speak French.

The frequency of these news reports mushroomed last year after controversies in Ottawa over the federal government appointing people who couldn’t speak French to key positions — such as one senior government spokesperson, a Supreme Court justice and an auditor general.

The PQ picked up on the theme in its election campaign, and promised to bar access to post-secondary English college to non-anglophones. It also raised the prospect of applying the language law to family businesses, by saying its new bill would affect companies with 11 or more employees.

Neither of those provisions appears in the new bill.

The legislation in the new Bill 14 does say that Quebec’s provincial Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be amended to declare that everyone in the province has a right to live, work in, and learn French.

The minister picked up on the theme of linguistic decline during a speech where she introduced the bill.

“The years of French growth are, sadly, behind us,” De Courcy said. “We’ve noticed especially in the last 15 years a slide in the use of French, particularly in Montreal. We think we need to act, now.”

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