Has Official Bilingualism in Canada Finally Hit a Brick Wall (Part 2)?
Bill C-13 has left English-speaking Quebecers with a bitter taste in their mouths. Effectively abandoned by politicians at all levels, expendable pawns in an emerging ‘Deux nations’ Canada
Narration: Rahul Majumdar
Adapted from text originally published: July 7, 2023
The federal Official Languages Act update and the associated amendments included in Bill C-13 are so far-reaching and perverse, they demand a full discussion.
Hence, the decision to create this four-part podcast series. Part 1 presented seven main reasons for rejecting C-13 outright, and acknowledged limited opposition voices prior to the bill’s June 20, 2023 Royal Assent.
The theme of this Substack article, The Betrayal of English-speaking Quebec, should be self-explanatory.
The Betrayal of English-speaking Quebec
What are the long-term implications of Bill C-13 - An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts? What can you say about legislation that appears to unlock the gates of El Dorado for one official language minority, but is effectively Kryptonite to the other?
Background: Canadian Nation-Building Gone Astray
First enacted in 1969 and significantly updated in 1988, the federal Official Languages Act was a cornerstone of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s strategy to counter Quebec separatism by giving francophones a better sense of belonging in Canada. It ushered in the so-called “French power” era in federal politics and administration, i.e.:
A linguistically revamped federal civil service aimed at increasing French-Canadian representation, especially in regions designated bilingual (e.g., National Capital Region, Montreal, New Brunswick);
Equal, official status for the French language alongside English within the Government of Canada, above all other languages;
The ability to receive federal services in the minority official language anywhere in Canada wherever significant demand exists, i.e., 5% of a local population or 5,000 people, whichever is smaller;
More visible political representation from the Province of Quebec in the federal cabinet and other high-level government/advisory positions (e.g., deputy ministers, Chiefs of Staff, Privy Council, heads of Crown Corporations, Canadian Armed Forces, diplomatic corps, etc.)
Buy-in for the Official Languages Act from the English-speaking community of Quebec, a.k.a. Quebec Anglophones, was far from unanimous. However, given their staunch opposition to Quebec independence, it was nevertheless viewed as a compromise to achieve linguistic peace and maintain national unity.
Hence, the elite consensus to keep Canada together was anchored by the English-speaking community of Quebec’s willingness to tolerate – if not accept – language laws like the Quebec Liberal Party’s 1974 Official Language Act (Bill 22) and the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101, as amended by Bill 96 – pending several upcoming court challenges).
Quebec’s English-speaking community has lived up to its end of the bargain for decades, arguably saving Canada in one, if not both Quebec referendums (1980, 1995). Despite this, federal politicians have increasingly marginalized and denigrated English Quebec, with Bill C-13 being their most egregious offence to date.
False Premises, Damaging Consequences
Is the French language in serious decline in Canada? The French language should be promoted in English-speaking Canada, but English speakers in Quebec need support, too. For example, Bill C-13 doesn’t address English Quebec’s chronic underrepresentation in both the Quebec civil service and in the federal civil service in Quebec.
In addition, C-13 emphasizes the importance of higher francophone immigration targets for English-speaking Canada throughout its text, yet barely acknowledges the role immigration from English-speaking countries to Quebec can play in revitalizing the province’s English-speaking community, which itself is an aging population having difficulty renewing itself. Especially outside the Montreal region.
Up to now, the Official Languages Act shielded Quebec anglophones – including those not fluent in French - working in federally-regulated private companies like banks (e.g., Bank of Montreal (BMO)), airline companies (e.g., Air Canada), rail companies, etc. from Bill 101. Now, the double whammy of C-13 and Bill 96 puts workplace peace at these companies in serious jeopardy, given that French predominance is now prioritized in both federal and provincial language legislation.
Contrary to Quebec nationalist mythology, English-speaking Quebecers today are socioeconomically and demographically disadvantaged compared to French-speakers - both inside and outside Quebec. The Provincial Employment Roundtable (PERT) report:
confirms this reality, which includes:
An unemployment rate that is four percent higher than that of francophone Quebecers;
A higher poverty rate than francophones (10% versus 5.8%);
$2,800 less in annual after-tax median income than French speakers
Clearly, the political ruling classes in Ottawa and Quebec City take English-speaking Quebecers for chumps. Is the additional $137.5 million in funding over five years (out of a $1.4 billion envelope, so where’s the rest of the money going?) for second language training in the Action Plan for Official Languages real proof of the federal government’s commitment to anglophones?
Apparently, the Quebec government will control the purse strings, and Minister of the French Language Jean-François Roberge has already indicated that use of these funds for court challenges against Quebec language laws would be unacceptable.
The acknowledgement in both federal and Quebec law of an officially French-only Quebec nation, and blatantly preferential treatment of official French-speaking provincial/territorial minorities in Canada via the Official Languages Act amount to denying the English-speaking Community of Quebec’s very existence. Even Quebec Premier François Legault’s backhanded acknowledgement of the English-speaking Community of Quebec’s ‘historical’ roots via public education eligibility looks good by comparison.
Et tu, les minorités francophones du Canada hors Québec?
What should also sting English-speaking Quebecers greatly is the betrayal of various academics, media pundits, lobbyists, community organizations and politicians from French-Canadian communities hors Québec, who rushed to the gates at the sight of fool’s gold to sell out their English Quebec brothers and sisters in arms – fellow travellers in the quest to secure minority language rights in all of Canada, or so we were led to believe.
Instead, another part of C-13’s legacy – should it survive any as yet to be announced federal court challenges – will be a permanent rupture of the alliance with les minorités francophones canadiennes.
Assuming, of course, that such an alliance ever existed…
In Part 3, let’s look closer at Justin Trudeau’s role in promoting C-13, the stark parallels between C-13 and Bill 96, and questions surrounding Quebec’s attempt at unilateral constitutional change.