More bureaucrats please! -

More bureaucrats please!


In those heady days of 1974–Bellbottoms! Rumble in the Jungle! Blazing Saddles!–Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, who acted every bit like the nebbish apparatchik that he resembled, introduced  Quebec’s first real stab at language legislation. Bill 22 was, like Bourassa himself, a masterful compromise: it mandated the use of French in public administration, required English businesses to have French names and use the language in its day-to-day activities. At the same time, as Marianopolis’ Claude Belanger points out, “On the subject of schools, it maintained the freedom of choice for the language of instruction, but subjected the entrance into English schools to those children that a test showed had a knowledge of English.” The bill added a thick bureaucratic layer to government, charged with enforcing the law.

No one was happy. Many Francophones said it didn’t go far enough, while the English community screamed bloody blue murder. The result, as the Gazette’s Don Macpherson notes today (Don: I ain’t copying. As God is my witness, I thought of the Bill 22 analogy before reading your column), was disastrous for the Libs: Bourassa’s English vote stayed away in droves while the French gravitated to the PQ. Add a whiff of Liberal corruption surrounding the James Bay development and voila! The PQ took power.

Fast forward 36 years, and we have a very similar language spat, this time surrounding English schools. The details are long and yawn-inducing, so here’s the Coles Notes: in Quebec, access to English school is limited to those whose parents were educated in English in Quebec. However, by sending your young’un to private English school for a year, you could “buy” your way into a public English school. In 2002, the PQ put an end to this with its own law. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the PQ law were unconstitutional, and gave the government a year to fix it. This week, the Liberals introduced Bill 103. It effectively stretched the amount of time required in private English school from one to three years, and said every single as-of-yet ineligible student must pass before a committee to judge if they are significantly English enough for English school.

As with Bill 22, no one is happy, with the PQ saying the bill still allows people to “Buy” a right to English schools, while English groups say access to English schools is so restrictive that it is slowly choking the public English system to death. “It fails the litmus test for a good compromise. And that test is ‘I’m not happy, but I can live with it.’ With Bill 103, no one is happy,” Dermod Travis, veteran language guy, told me today. “Rights should not be accorded on the size of your wallet. And what this bill does is simply require a heftier wallet.”

(I haven’t read it anywhere, but I assume that the ADQ is bemoaning the bureaucratic burden this bill requires, and rightfully so.)

This isn’t to say Charest will suffer anywhere near the same fate as Bourassa on this. Times and context have changed significantly, particularly with many young French parents who want their kids to go to English school. Besides, there isn’t a looming election.

It just goes to show how consensus is as fleeting as ever when it comes to language issues in this province.

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More bureaucrats please!

  1. Hypothesis: PLQ is aware of own mortality (corruption, budget, language, identity). Aware PQ likely to win next election. Trying to do things that set a standard from which the next logical PQ step isn't so bad, from a PLQ view of the world (federalism, pro-private sector, protecting minorities). PLQ hamstrung as not viewed as nationalist and trustworthy on identity issues. But, paradoxically, PQ hamstrung too, but in reverse: the PQ needs the middle classes in the 450 who want nationalism in theory, but disapprove of rights restriction etc. in practice. Whereas PLQ has to guard against being seen as too liberal/insufficiently nationalist, PQ has to guard against being seen as too nationalist/insufficiently liberal. Consequently, if PQ wants to shut down private school loophole, it may need to introduce at same time a "clause monde", replicating "clause QC & Cda", as advocated by some of its more enlightened and prominent thinkers, ie. can't buy English school access, effectively shutting off allophone and francophone access to English schools, but those children who have done their schooling in English outside of Canada, or whose parents did, if kids just starting, they will be allowed to attend English schools. Chambers Report, 20+ years on.

    I'm not saying this will happen. But it is coherent next step for nationalist collectivist logic, and is being proposed and debated by more liberal nationalists and péquistes. So, just as PLQ 3-yr equivocation is accompanied with a raft of French-reinforcing measures, so would a PQ use of notwithstanding clause have to be accompanied with a demonstration of openness and liberalism, politically, esp. since Qcers are very law-abiding, among the most conservative that way, and hate idea of suspending rights/"lawbreaking" (why Clarity Act worked despite general gloom and doom beforehand – son of Léon understands his society better than most)

    It's just a hypothesis. Maybe PLQ just being PLQ. And PQ will be complete idiots. And there is no such conscious calculation going on, and this won't come to pass. Maybe PLQ, under new leader, wins. Or PQ wins, and just represses rights like mad, left, right and centre. But it's not an impossible hypothesis. One never knows.

    • PS. Implicit in what I just wrote is that everyone knows QC controls immigration (outside of family reunification and refugees, obviously, and even then, there's consultation) and tries to recruit only francophones (whence difficulties re. integrating Maghrébiens), so numbers of possible new anglo students small, but something. Again, see Chambers Report.

      PPS. Worst Montreal Trade Ever: Long Established Bilingual Anglo Professionals to Toronto in return for Less Educated, More Difficult to Integrate Muslim Francophones from Africa and Middle-East. Ranks up there with Toronto sending us Courtnall for Kordic.

      • I think you are onto something.

        As for the "worst trade ever"; the two last governments were either messing around cluelessly with big institutional solutions (PQ's meddling and eventual scrapping of the COFI) or flat-out uninterested in whatever might happens to immigrants once they get in Québec (PLQ relentlessly cutting expenses into french courses and other help measures for recently arrived people and generaly inexistent drive to have a comprehensive, constructive stance toward the problems of professional recognition and traning).

        Through all of this, I remained impressed with the Liberals ability to consistently, repeatedly offend anglo-quebeckers, almost as impressed as I am with said Anglo-Quebecker's ability to withstand the abuse and stay faithful to these guys. My understanding is this doesn't gives a very interesting outlook of one's place in the future of this society and thus explain's why so many anglos bolt somewhere else.

        • That's because the Anglophone vote has nowhere else to go. When Bourassa passed Loi 22, some Anglophones did desert him to form their own parties. What was the result? A couple of inconsequential MNAs elected in the West Island and the opening up of the way for the PQ victory in 1976.

          • "That's because the Anglophone vote has nowhere else to go. When Bourassa passed Loi 22, some Anglophones did desert him to form their own parties. What was the result? A couple of inconsequential MNAs elected in the West Island and the opening up of the way for the PQ victory in 1976."

            Hm. It's a tough spot, really.Now that I think about it, it looks like the anglo vote is not worth alienating the francos for the Liberals, because they will always come back and it looks like it's not worth trying to get anglos on board for the PQ because they won't go near a separatist and there aren't enough of them to actually prevent the PQ from taking power once, as it is the case right now, they are around 45% amongst francophones.

            So that leaves Québec Solidaire and the Greens. Eeek. And even then… No political party in Québec speaks to the anglos as communities. Surprising.

          • I ,and most of my anglo friends and family, left Quebec after the PQ victory in '76. I still have a sis & BIL (he totally bilingual) in Mtl. Hubby's twin bro and family (originally from France) live in Laval. We spend time in PQ every year and I get to practice my French :-). Miss the ambience, food, etc. but doubt we'll ever return. Niece is currently spending 3 mos. in France with her French boyfriend's family. Hubby and I spend 3 weeks at least every 2 years with his family & relatives/old friends in France.

  2. In my view the law is completely discriminatory, but that's just Quebec being Quebec. Immigrants who would rather learn English than French (which would be most of the ones who aren't already francophones, giving the nature of the global economy) are welcome to come to the rest of Canada if Quebec chooses to exclude them.

  3. Good piece, Martin. Three things:

    The child of parents who went to English school ANYWHERE IN CANADA is eligible for English instruction, ever since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms took text from La loi sur la répression de la langue anglaise La Charte de la langue française and expanded the eligibility a bit.

    More and more francophone parents are saying that it isn't fair that they are denied the choice on where to send their kids; while so many (including some of these same parents) recite the gospel Ne touchez pas à la Loi 101.

    If God is your only witness, you are in trouble. God is no longer a trustworthy witness in Québec.

  4. The trick for the Greens is to pull a Muclair without having their leader poached by the PQ, I guess :).

    But if the Greens are, indeed, federalists, then that shut them out of Mercier, don't you think? And, more broadly, it cuts them away from a large chunk of the franco progressive vote, which makes them ineffective ball carriers for the english speaking communities. Which, in turn, pretty much means the anglos are stuck with the Liberals.

    Unless there is a shift in the political debate, that is.

    • Well the Greens and QS had similar positions on national question at beginning, "we don't want to talk about it, we're about poverty (QS) / environment (PV)". But QS was ever so slightly separatist, and PV federalist. Over time, QS has had to define itself more, being more successful, and has reaffirmed its separatism more openly. The PV is still quiet and unsure. It basically doesn't have a position, doesn't care, which means in effect federalist, just. Whence their "out" on winning West Island ridings without closing off future franco growth: candidates are allowed a certain freedom on national question, as opposed to others they care about, environment, etc.. Make national question, and individual linguistic rights, matters of personal conscience, that any future MNAs could vote their consciences on. That way, can run no-anglo-schools separatists in Chicoutimi and absolute-free-choice federalists in D'Arcy-Mcgee. Greens should be flexible on this so as to get seats. Don't worry about totally coherent platform until real chance of Govt, which is probably never. Since it's all about push Green agenda, give freedom on this question, which Greens couldn't care about, really, it's all about the Earth for them. If want to be effective voices for their agenda, elected lobby group, which is their aim, really, then do this. It will work.

      PS. Maclean's, this is EFL, away from my desk.

  5. and here I thought that Bill 22 was the new Pope !