Disclaimer: Although our editorial board comprises a diverse range of cultural, geographic, and linguistic backgrounds, none of us identifies as a Quebecker. The perspectives that we put forward here represent us as McGill students, and members of the various communities in Montreal that have embraced us, and that we, in turn, have come to view as our own.
Over the next month, Bill 14—the Parti Québécois’ proposed addition to the seminal Bill 101—will undergo public consultation, but is already facing protests and heated opposition. The bill looks to further define the nature of language relations in Quebec, imposing new restrictions on the use of English in the province, with intention to strengthen the presence of the French language in Quebec. Rather than doing this through the promotion of French, however, this bill takes a negative approach; it seeks to protect French through the gradual eradication of English, as well as the multitude of other languages that are spoken here. We fear that this course of action, although not the first of its kind, ultimately aims to destroy the culture of multilingualism that we feel makes Montreal—and Quebec—beautiful.
Among our editorial board, there was a consensus that none of us chose to attend McGill solely on its own academic merits. Montreal is a unique, world-class city, and much of its appeal stems from a delicate balance that it strikes; it is a linguistically and culturally French area still accessible both to tourists and to incoming students, whose grasp of the French language may be lacking. This ability to accommodate has meant that all of us, from beginners to native francophones, are able to find ways to integrate ourselves into this city in whatever capacity we desire; for many, this is the impetus to commit to learning French. Bill 14 looks to challenge this culture of inclusion and integration.
As we remember what brought us to Montreal, we also look ahead to what comes next. Many of us are already uncertain of our ability to find stable full-time employment in Montreal due to language barriers, and have all but written off staying here after graduation. Some changes that Bill 14 will bring about only seek to worsen this; it halves the size of companies that are legally permitted to operate in English, requires internal “francization measures” which regulate the use of French in the workplace, and looks to strengthen the enforcement of all regulations of this nature. This actively discourages the employment of anglophone students and will invariably result in a brain drain, as English-speeking graduates from McGill and Concordia go elsewhere with the skills and knowledge that they gained in Quebec before they have a chance to learn French.
Although many of the bill’s impacts are debatable, some of the impositions that it makes upon anglophone communities in Quebec are unacceptable, and cast a very negative light on the province as a whole. Although francophones are very much a minority when viewed from a national perspective, it is the anglophone Quebeckers who comprise the minority when we shift our view to the provincial level. Many aspects of Bill 14—such as the new criteria for municipalities to lose their bilingual status, as well as its accounting for native, rather than preferred language—have the distinct appearance of intolerance, even oppression, towards this minority.
Albeit distinct, Quebec is an integral part of Canada. We are a country that has long invited visitors and immigrants, a country that prides itself on welcoming diversity. Although the protection of its language and heritage is undoubtedly a priority for Quebec, doing so at the expense of minorities—many of whom have roots in the province just as deep as any francophone community, is not the Canadian way. New Brunswick, the country’s only legally bilingual province, uses innovative legislature to protect both languages and their respective cultures, without infringing on one another. Although Quebec’s situation is unique, this approach should be looked to as an example; it is diversity, just as much as traditionalism ,that makes Quebec the province we know and love.