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Quebec to Introduce Expansion of French Language Law

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If passed, the new measures will extend a French language mandate in Quebec to federally-regulated businesses and companies with 25-49 employees, an expansion from the law that previously applied to businesses with 50 or more employees.

Following decades of legislation to protect French as the official language of Quebec, Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette will present a linguistic action plan this week aimed at expanding the mandate to federally-regulated businesses.

Since 1977, any businesses that employ over 50 people have been subject to Quebec’s Bill 101, which mandates use of French among the province’s government, businesses, workplaces, and education system. Though the bill has maintained support since it passed decades ago, it has also received its share of criticism.

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When the bill first passed, Quebec experienced a mass exodus of anglophones and allophones. Furthermore, the unemployment rate spiked in the years following the bill and remained above 10% until almost 2000. Since then, however, the province has seen a steady decline in unemployment, though a disparity remains between Quebecers and immigrants.

Still, despite the setbacks Quebec has faced following the bill’s passage, many lawmakers laud the bill for how it has promoted the French language in Quebec. “Without Bill 101, Montreal would be an English-speaking city predominantly right now,” said the former Bloc Québécois MP Jean Dorion, who was the minister in charge of implementing the charter.

Indeed, as opposed to a 14.6% allophone French school attendance in 2015, that number had reached 85% by 2015, according to a 2017 article published in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Bill 101 was especially effective in directing immigrants to the French school system. That was the main merit of the law,” said Dorion, who is also the former president of the Societé Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which promotes and protects French language and culture.

Among the entities impacted by the linguistic policy, companies with 25 to 49 employees may be required to adopt the Frenchification programs, though it is not yet clear whether Quebec plans to impose the same obligations on those companies as they have on larger ones.

Along with this expansion, Jolin-Barrette announced a further measure that targets federally regulated businesses like banks and VIA Rail, which could create some logistical challenges with the Canadian government. The minister also has announced a project to impose French as the exclusive language of communication between government entities and corporations.

“It would be wise for companies under federal jurisdiction to be subject to the Charter of the French language. Quebecers have the right to work in French,” he said. “We are looking at the different modalities that could be put forward. I am not excluding anything at this stage.”

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