Anglophone municipal leaders predict chaos and the end of linguistic peace in Quebec if the Parti Québécois government proceeds with a provision in its language bill to withdraw the bilingual status of certain municipalities.
During the opening day of public hearings on Bill 14, opponents warned that English-speaking Quebeckers would take to the streets against the measure, which threatens to remove the bilingual status of municipalities whose anglophone population has fallen below the 50-per-cent mark required to maintain their standing. Bilingual status allows municipalities to use English, along with French, in their official communications with residents.
"I can tell you that if someone came to Côte-Saint-Luc to tell us we would lose our bilingual status, you will have chaos, you will have opposition of people you wouldn't think of who will take to the streets and you will lose linguistic peace," the mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, Anthony Housefather, said during National Assembly committee hearings.
Mr. Housefather urged the PQ government to reconsider its proposal. Although his city, located on the Island of Montreal, wasn't threatened by the measure, Mr. Housefather spoke on behalf of several English-speaking communities when he argued that the bilingual status was a vested right that should only be removed if asked by a municipality.
"We didn't understand why in this law our municipal bilingual status that we cherish, was attacked.… We don't want to give the government the right to take it away even if our population falls below 50 per cent, because we built this city. The English-speaking community built the city of Côte-Saint-Luc," Mr. Housefather said.
This wasn't the only part of the bill that came under attack. The mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labeaume, urged the government to withdraw a provision that would repeal the right of francophone military families to send their children to English-language schools. Military families have always been exempted from the education requirements in the French Language Charter.
Coalition du Quebec MNA Éric Caire made an emotional plea calling on the minister responsible for the French Language Charter, Diane de Courcy, to support Mr. Labeaume's request that would affect 850 francophone children in Quebec.
"I was in the military and I can't see why the minister would attack these people who devoted their lives to protect our rights, to protect our freedom which allows her to be a sovereignist without impunity," Mr. Caire said in the National Assembly.
Ms. De Courcy expressed an openness to eventually amend the law to meet some of the demands from both the anglophone and francophone mayors.
"I am here to see, to listen and eventually improve the law," Ms. De Courcy said, specifically referring to the need to weigh anglophone community's heritage in Quebec in deciding future amendments to the bill. "Nothing is set in stone. We make commitments and then we move forward in the direction determined by our common heritage."
Passage of the bill will be decided by the CAQ, which holds the balance of power. Party Leader François Legault has held discussions with Ms. De Courcy outlining three demands, which include repealing the provisions on the bilingual status of municipalities, the rights of military families, and on increased red tape for smaller companies which will be required to offer more French services to their employees.
"I've known Diane de Courcy for a long time and she is an open-minded person," Mr. Legault said. "I am optimistic she will accept our amendments."
Over the next six weeks, Ms. De Courcy will hear from a wide range of groups, including those who argue that the bill doesn't go far enough in imposing French as Quebec's common language of communication, especially in the workplace.