Skip to main content

Political manna can assume many guises.

The sovereigntist Parti Québécois's inexorable downward spiral is amply documented by polls, but a single census data point has brought it the opportunity to bust out a go-to move: performative stoking of language anxiety on the backs of les anglais.

That's right – the scourge that is the universal Montreal retail-industry greeting of "bonjour-hi" must be killed with fire, its ashes buried in lye and the location forgotten.

Perfect. Which foul colloquialism shall be suivant-next?

The impetus for this four-ring circus of inanity is a Statistics Canada finding on the proportion of primarily French-speaking workplaces in Quebec, which dropped from slightly above to just below 80 per cent from 2006 to 2016.

The decline is largely a Montreal phenomenon. It is also accompanied by a similar increase in the use of French in multilingual workplaces.

Thus, the statistics can be read as proof of dangerous slippage; or, more benignly, as Quebec companies looking outward to English-speaking clientele amid a tightening embrace of French by anglophones and allophones.

Three guesses as to which interpretation rapidly submerging PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée has grabbed onto.

So, the inevitable: a unanimous, PQ-sponsored National Assembly resolution calling on shops to stick with "bonjour" and cut out the nasty English bit.

There are valid and important reasons behind Quebec's commitment to safeguard the French language.

Using political street theatre to stigmatize public utterances of English in a cosmopolitan, internationally celebrated city, however, is unserious and of highly dubious value.

Meaningfully protecting French requires tackling actual challenges, such as getting immigrants to live and work in French, and nurturing the cultural attachments of children who have access to limitless and borderless choices in music, literature, television and film.

That's hard, complicated work, and the PQ has a history of failing at it.

Also, it takes a while to show up in the polling.