It’s true: despite the nuisances and controversies generated by Bill 101, Quebec’s 1977 Charter of the French Language, the province had settled in the past years into a kind of linguistic peace. But tensions have mounted considerably since the separatist PQ returned to the fore. In the wake of pastagate, the language board allowed that its requests were maybe overzealous; the head of the organization resigned. And yet the PQ has prepared for the passage of Bill 14, a massive and massively controversial revision to Bill 101. The bill’s 155 proposed amendments go further than any previous measures have to legislate the use of French in Quebec. Most English speakers see the changes as having been designed to run them right out of the province.
“Definitely non-Francophone kids who are graduating are leaving,” says restaurateur Lecas. “If you don’t have a mortgage yet, if you’re not married yet, if you don’t own a business yet, it’s like, ‘I’m so outta here.’ But leaving is not the solution because when you leave, they win.” In a poll conducted by the research company EKOS in January, 42% of the Anglophones surveyed said they’ve considered quitting Quebec since the PQ was elected.
If Bill 14 passes, military families living in Quebec but liable to be relocated at any time will no longer be permitted to send their children to English-language schools. Municipalities whose Anglophone inhabitants make up less than 50% of their populations will lose their bilingual status, meaning, among other things, that residents won’t be able to access government documents in English. For the first time, companies with 25 to 49 workers will be required to conduct all business in French, a process set to cost medium-size businesses $23 million. French speakers interested in attending English-language colleges will take a backseat to Anglophone applicants. The language inspectors will be able to instantly search and seize potentially transgressive records, files, books and accounts, where currently they can only “request” documents that they believe aren’t in accordance with the law. And no longer will they grant a compliance period. As soon as a person or business is suspected of an offense, “appropriate penal proceedings may be instituted.”