Quebec — Premier François Legault dug in his heels on Wednesday to compare the state of the language of Quebec to Louisiana, declaring that he now wants a more complete statistical picture of the use of French in all aspects of society.
“Everybody has to accept that the French have declined,” Legault, who was in the National Assembly for Question Hour, told reporters. “When we look at the statistics, the most used language at home is in decline, the most used language at work is in decline.
“It becomes a question of time. If this decline continues, how many years will it take before French is not used very much?”
Legault quoted government figures as saying that the number of people using French in the workplace on the island of Montreal increased from 59.5 percent in 2011 to 56.8 percent.
He said the data is one reason why his coalition Avenir Québec government adopted Bill 96 to strengthen the charter of the French language.
“There is an urgency to act,” said the premier.
Legault made statements in Quebec to justify his new campaign to pressure the federal government to surrender more powers over immigration. Specifically, he wants the province to control the category of family integration, a request Ottawa has already denied.
At his party’s policy convention over the weekend, Legault said immigration would be a major issue in October’s general election, and that gaining more power is a question of survival for the nation of Quebec.
“If we continue with a system where Ottawa picks up these immigrants and only half speak French, in no time we could be Louisiana,” he said at the conference.
Also, the CAQ government is trying to allay the fear of the English speaking community over Bill 96. It took out a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Montreal Gazette titled Bill 96: The Facts and said “many lies have been spread.”
Pundits and critics have complained that the ad does not respond to the concerns of the anglophone community.
But on Wednesday Legault retweeted a comment made by a citizen complaining about the Gazette’s coverage of the bill. “Responding to propaganda in a single newspaper has to pay for full page advertisements in the newspaper,” the tweet said.
It all comes as Legault is being accused by the opposition of inventing the crisis over immigration for political reasons, while Quebec heads into an election campaign.
Liberal MNA Saul Polo, who was born in Santa Marta, Colombia and moved to Quebec 30 years ago, told the legislature on Tuesday that he “refuses to accept the label that immigration is a threat to the nation of Quebec.” “
He said it is not the government’s job if he chooses to speak Spanish at home and French outside. Legault told the legislature on Tuesday that the success of Polo’s integration into Quebec society was an “anecdote”, and that he was particularly irritated to hear that the overall problem remained.
“I was deeply shocked by the premiere being treated as an anecdote,” Polo told reporters. “I and many Quebecers made all the necessary efforts to become integrated and full citizens.”
Legault said he meant to say that polo is an example and the prime minister is more concerned with the global situation. The data shows that fewer people are speaking French at home and this trend will continue, he said.
“The data we have, the language spoken at home and the language at work, are important,” he said. “I would like to add one more statistic. That’s why I’ve asked (French Minister for Languages) Simon Jolin-Barrett and his team for data on the language used in the public sector.
“What we are saying is, we want French to be the common language. Well, we have to look at what is the home language, what is the language of work, what is the language of the public sector. They go together.
“If there is no one who speaks French at home, it means that French will eventually disappear.”
Legault became incensed when pressured by a Gazette reporter to elaborate on the issue of languages spoken at home.
“Do you agree with me that if 50 years from now, no one speaks French at home, French will not have a good future? Do you agree with that? So you have your answer.”
After that he left the room.
D’Arcy-McGee Liberal MNA David Birnbaum, the party’s point figure for the English-speaking community, later reported hearing Legault’s remarks about citizens in the West Island in the legislature during the question period after the news conference.
“Shameful,” Birnbaum tweeted. “Right now, François Legault, off-micro (phone) but audible and twice, said: ‘C’est le West Island qui s’énerve!’ It was his outrageous response to our question-period interference on his on-the-record attacks on Quebecers, whose mother tongue is other than French.”
Legault grew up in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, on the West Island.
The premier received a strong rebuke from the Quebec Community Groups Network, the umbrella group for English-language organizations, which responded with a tweet of its own.
“Premier François Legault – officially the minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers – is showing incredible disrespect to his constituency,” the tweet said.
His decision to delve into the emotional topic of language and immigration had sparks already flying in Question Hour, with opposition parties ganging up on Legault for the second day in a row.
“If the premier thinks that 14,000 people (the estimated number of family-integration immigrants per year) are going to move us to Louisiana in a few years, it is because he is stuck in his ideology,” said a co-spokesperson for Quebec Solidar. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois fired on the floor at Legault.
“In the ideology of the Premier, immigrants are a threat to the French.”
Legault continued his attack on the same day that Bill 96 became law.
At a brief signing ceremony early Wednesday, Lt-Gov. J. Michelle Doyan signed the bill, which was adopted in the National Assembly last week.
Jolin-Barrett said Bill 96 would give Quebec the “tools it needs” to protect and promote the French.
He said some measures would come into force with immediate effect, such as the creation of a French language ministry. Other measures, such as those applied to commercial signs and franchise requirements for small businesses, will go into effect over three years.
The maximum limit for enrollment in the English CEGEP will begin next year, but the requirement to take additional French courses will come into effect in year two.
Within the next year, Jolin-Barrett would introduce a new government linguistic policy.
“It’s time to do things right and we’re giving people time to adapt,” he told reporters.
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