On Sept. 18, The McGill Tribune published an opinion piece titled “Quebec’s quest for monolingual domination makes healthcare less accessible.” In this article, the author made dubious and confusing links between Bill 10, font changes on information signs at Saint Mary’s hospital, and what he described as “Quebec’s quest for monolingual domination.” We, the Francophone newspaper Le Délit, and the Organisation de la Francophonie à McGill, seek to react and set the record straight lest such an ill-advised and anecdotal opinion piece cultivate confusion and intolerance among the McGill community.
In 2015, the Québec government passed Bill 10: “An Act to modify the organization and governance of the health and social services network, in particular by abolishing the regional agencies.” Bill 10 is part of a vast reform of the healthcare system engineered by the Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ)―elected with stellar majorities in Anglophone ridings like Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG), in which the Saint-Mary’s hospital is located.
Ironically, the PLQ invoked closure, bâillon, to pass Bill 10 and muffle the Parti québécois and Québec solidaire’s opposition to the dismantling of regional agencies. If anglophone communities are indeed worried about the loss of local agencies, this concern is shared by many Francophones. The removal of some local anglophone agencies and the ensuing disorganization of services are consequences of Bill 10, not its purpose.
The constituency of NDG, nonetheless, stands in good posture to voice its concern since Kathleen Weil, minister in charge of the relations with English-speaking Québécois, is currently running for reelection in this same riding.
It is also worth noting that anglophone communities were invited in parliamentary committee before Bill 10 was tabled. Addressing the issue of access to services in English, Article 76 of the bill states that “Each public institution must, in the centres it specifies, develop a program of access to English-language health services and social services for the English-speaking population it serves.”
In fact, no one voiced the alleged determination to make French predominant during debates on the bill at the National Assembly. Purporting that Bill 10 was driven by Québec’s intent of monolinguistic domination is at best ridiculous, if not completely misleading.
Referring to changes in the font size of signs at Saint-Mary’s hospital, the author contends that “legislation like Bill 10 is not only detrimental to [students’] security but is attempting to address an imagined decline in the French linguistic tradition.” We can but call this a misinformed and twisted reading of reality.
How can one pretend to understand the language question in Québec while grounding their analysis in a study that looks at it from a purely market-based perspective, where historical and cultural dimensions have been evacuated? A diagnosis of the state of the French language can not rest solely on a supply and demand analysis. The question is, obviously, more complex than this.
Moreover, the author’s diagnosis of an “imagined” French decline is problematic, as it relies on numbers about Québec residents’ self-assessed ability to sustain a conversation in French. This is not very telling. Meanwhile, the proportion of Québécois whose first language is French and the number of Québécois speaking French at home are both declining. Another recent study designed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that almost half of Québécois are functional illiterates. “French is on the rise”—really?
If the author of this opinion piece truly feels concerned by the respect and dynamism of Québec’s linguistic culture, then the impact of his words should probably be weighed more carefully. Changing the signs’ font resulted from an administrative decision; to portray that change as a national “quest for monolingual domination” is dishonest and disrespectful toward Québécois. This sort of presumption can have dangerous consequences, as it fuels confusion and pits communities against each other.
By the way, Montréal is indeed a cosmopolitan city, but it is also part of Québec. And here, French is not just a mere “linguistic tradition”: It is our official language and the basis of our identity.
Antoine Milette-Gagnon and Simon Tardif are Editors at Le Délit, and Christophe Savoie-Côté is the President of L’Organisation de la Francophonie à McGill.