Bill 96: Suburban mayors want permanent bilingual status for municipalities

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“We believe that the bilingual status of certain municipalities must be maintained, even in the event of declining demographic change,” said Beny Masella, mayor of Montreal West.

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QUEBEC РThe mayors of the suburbs of Montreal are asking the government of the Coalition Avenir Qu̩bec to make permanent the bilingual status of most of their cities even though the percentage of English-speaking residents has fallen.

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And two other groups, the Association du Barreau du Québec and the Conseil du patronat, have expressed doubts about many clauses of Bill 96 overhauling the Charter of the French language.

The bar says key clauses in the bill, including the one that says the judiciary cannot require judges to be bilingual, will most likely be challenged in court. And the employers’ association says the legislation will jeopardize the recruitment of companies and do little to really endorse the quality of French.

“When a company recruits, it looks for the best candidate”, specifies the association. “Talent has no nationality or language.

As the second week of hearings on the bill draws to a close, the focus has been on the details of how the law will be applied if it passes as it is currently drafted.

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Although they are not supposed to appear until Thursday, the suburban mayors have taken the plunge, releasing their brief in which they say they see no reason for a municipality to lose its bilingual status.

Indeed, bilingualism for many of them is “an integral part of their identity,” said Beny Masella, president of the Association of Suburban Municipalities and mayor of Montreal West.

“We believe that the bilingual status of some municipalities should be maintained, even in the face of declining demographic change,” Masella said in a statement.

“On the ground, we do not see any issue justifying the removal of this right from municipalities which currently have this status, quite the contrary. It is important to have the flexibility to offer optimal services to all the citizens of our municipalities.

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Of the association’s 15 municipalities, 13 have bilingual status, which allows them to communicate with citizens in English.

Many cities in Quebec have maintained services in English despite population displacements, out of respect for citizens.

In Bill 96, the CAQ government proposes to abolish the bilingual status of cities where the population of native English citizens has fallen below 50%.

The bill also indicates that a municipality can choose to maintain bilingual status by adopting a resolution within 120 days of the coming into force of Bill 96. About 60% of bilingual towns and villages in Quebec have it. already done.

But Masella said there was “real discontent and concern in our communities when this unnecessary debate periodically resurfaces in the public arena.”

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The association is asking the government to make the bilingual status permanent following a resolution adopted by the council.

Mayors were not the only dissenting voices.

In the afternoon, the Barreau du Québec raised several red flags when it appeared before the committee.

They said that despite the government’s decision to use the constitution’s notwithstanding clause to protect the bill from legal challenges, parts of the bill could end up in court anyway.

On the one hand, the clause in the bill which would make it illegal to require judges to be bilingual unless the Minister of Justice gives permission, could compromise the independence of the judiciary and make it illegal. ‘object of dispute, said the association.

Other parts of the bill – including a clause that says the French version of laws and regulations would have primacy over English versions – could violate Article 133 of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to use French or English in court.

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In the evening, the chairman of the Patronage Council, Karl Blackburn, said that many elements of the bill would have a negative impact on the business community.

Extending the charter francization certification process to companies with 25 to 49 employees – as proposed in the bill – burdens them with red tape and administrative costs that many cannot afford.

New restrictions on a company’s powers to recruit employees who speak both English and French are also unrealistic in an open international business climate, the association argued.

Finally, he said the clause proposing a return to the 2019 formula of “clear predominance” of French over commercial signs would do nothing to stimulate the use of French by citizens. It will also penalize businesses that will have to shell out money to adjust their signs once again.

And Blackburn welcomed an idea from Parti Québécois MP on the committee, Pascal Bérubé, who suggested that stores be rewarded for serving customers in French by receiving a special door sign.

“Your idea is not bad,” Blackburn told Bérubé.

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