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What proposed Bill 96 means for English-speaking Quebecers





The proposed Bill 96, “An Act respecting French [as] the official and common language of Quebec” has brought with it many opinions and much controversy. To the general viewer, reader, or listener political propositions can feel daunting and difficult to piece together. As Anglophone Montrealers, Bill 96 can also feel like a personal attack on what is a quintessential part of a person’s identity; their mother tongue.


Due to the complexities and nuances of the situation, West Island News’ very own Rhonda Massad sat down with Christopher Skeete, Quebec’s Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, to ask the questions we all have in regard to Bill 96.


But first, some background information.


According to the Quebec Community Newspapers Association, here are some of the ways in which Bill 96 will affect English-speaking Quebecers if it passes:


  • If the bill passes, the Office de la Langue Française will make public a list of businesses that are not compliant with the law, and they will no longer be eligible to receive any public grants, subsidies, or funding.

  • If the bill passes, any company comprised of more than 25 employees will be subject to complaint-driven inspections, allowing the Office de la Langue Française to search workplace phones and computers to ensure all communications are being made in the “common language”.

  • If the bill is passed, Anglophone Quebecers will be faced with new restrictions on provincial services as well as communications in English.

  • If Bill 96 is passed Anglophones will face higher costs and delays in accessing the province's justice system.

  • If the bill passes, English-speaking Quebecers residing in primarily francophone areas may lose the right to receive certain services and information in English.

  • If Bill 96 passes, representatives of the Quebec government will regulate any music played in the public service industry.

  • If the bill is passed, employees in the public service may be banned from speaking to colleagues in any language but French.

SOURCE: https://qcgn.ca/


Like many, you may have questions. Lots of them.


To better understand the proposed Bill 96, our Editor in Chief, Rhonda Massad, had the chance to sit down with Christopher Skeete, Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, and asked the questions many want answered.


Like so many Anglophones, Rhonda did not shy away from expressing her apprehension and concern about the bill.


Christopher Skeete, with who Massad has had the chance to build a working and political relationship, is someone who has always been receptive to West Island News' calls and has always delivered transparent information.


Here's what he had to say on the matter:


"I think when you ask most English-speaking Quebecers 'what makes Quebec special? What makes Quebec unique in North America?' we can all agree that it's the Frenchness. It's the fact that here there's this little island of French that has survived for over 400 years. That's what this bill is about."
- Christopher Skeete, Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers

For Skeete, Bill 96 is about making sure that for the next 400 years, we still speak French in Quebec, and recognize it as a common, unifying language.


Massad did not shy away from the fact that, for many, as an English-speaking Quebecer, the bill can feel like a personal attack.


The many rules, regulations, and restrictions imposed by Bill 96 listed above feel personal for a lot of English Quebecers. It can feel like a direct attempt to prohibit an individual's rights, freedoms, and identity. For Skeete, this is not what Bill 96 represents.


"When we say that French is the common language... What does that mean on a day-to-day basis? I think that is what we have to come back to."
- Christopher Skeete, Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers

Skeete did acknowledge, however, that with legislation, it's difficult to be inclusive of everyone. That being said, if you're an English-speaking Quebecer and you were receiving your documents in English yesterday, you're going to continue receiving your documents in English tomorrow.


The bill will not impose any regulations on an individual's private sphere.


According to Skeete, Quebec is "Europe in North America," and that is the "jewel" that the bill aims to protect.


For Rhonda, the bill feels like a risk being placed on the shoulders of Quebec's English community.


"Quite the contrary. In this bill, one of the biggest complaints that I get from English-speaking Quebecers is that kids who are getting 85% in high school can't even get into Dawson or Vanier because they're competing with francophones."
- Christopher Skeete, Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers

Skeete went on to explain that Bill 96 enshrines priority access to the English community to be able to attend English cegeps. Further, it stipulates that English-speaking Quebecers have a fundamental right to learn French and to be successful in the province.


For some, there is a deep concern about what Bill 96 will mean for immigrants in Quebec. As previously mentioned, the bill's ultimate goal is to see Quebecers succeed, and the belief is that to be successful in Quebec means to be fluent in French.


Massad expressed her concerns in regards to her rights and privacy, particularly in the workplace. Bill 96 states that any business operation comprised of under 25 employees is considered a "small business" and as such, is not subject to inspection by the Office de la Langue Française. Employees who are part of a larger corporation, however, will be required to speak, work and carry out their day-to-day administrative tasks in French.


If the bill passes, what does this mean for Anglophones in the province? Should there be a concern for an increase in poverty and unemployment rates because English-speaking members of the province can't comply with workplace language regulations?


According to Christopher Skeete, the answer is no.


"Actually, quite the contrary. By making learning French a right in Quebec, we're going to make sure that English-speaking Quebecers can improve their French and improve and improve their employment prospects."
- Christopher Skeete, Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers

Reportedly, one of the biggest concerns Anglophones in the province have, is that their spoken and written French is not strong enough in a professional environment. Bill 96 aims to help English-speaking Quebecers "reach their full potential" and feel confident in the workplace.


Skeete continued by emphasizing the fact that learning French and having access to courses and information is a right and not an obligation. No English-speaking Quebecer will be forced to learn French.


"People are going to be accompanied, people are going to have the tools to change and to transition with this, but most importantly, I think this is going to reaffirm what makes us unique in North America. And I think that's a worthy cause."
- Christopher Skeete, Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers

Bill 96 will go into consultation in September.


To learn more about participating in Bill 96's public consultation and how you can have your voice heard, visit http://www.assnat.qc.ca/


See Rhonda Massad's complete interview with Christopher Skeete below.