Bill 96, both necessary, worrying and irritating in the Outaouais

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Law 96, at once necessary, worrying and irritating in the Outaouais

Bill 96 is necessary according to some in the Outaouais, while others want it suspended.

Municipal elected officials in Outaouais promise to respect Bill 96, which reforms the Charter of the French language, even if the challenges will be many.

In Mansfield -et-Pontefract, Bill 96 will be respected, says Mayor Sandra Armstrong.

This small Pontiac municipality operates in French, as do its neighbors, Fort-Coulonge and ;Grand-Calumet Island.

These three Outaouais municipalities do not have bilingual city status, due to their demographic composition. Indeed, at least 51% of the population is French-speaking.

It's for sure that our first language is French, then we respect it a lot, says Sandra Armstrong. But there are fears of losing our language, she adds.

Mansfield-et-Pontefract is a municipality in Quebec located in the MRC of Pontiac in Outaouais (Archives)

However, despite this fear, the elected official asserts that the municipality's clientele must be well served. Mayor Armstrong explains that each spring, many English-speaking tourists settle into cabins on her territory until the fall. This is without counting the Anglophones who have been living in the municipality in greater numbers since the start of the pandemic.

The mayor wants the status quo. The elected official declares to agree with all the political side of the law. No problem, she said. But customer service… that's where we doubt it.

“If someone arrives [at City Hall], we will introduce ourselves in French. But if the person doesn't understand, and we're offering a service, that's where it gets a little more complicated. »

— Sandra Armstrong, Mayor of Mansfield-et-Pontefract

The Mayor concludes: We want a community that can help anyone. We are welcoming, warm, and we just want everyone to feel at home.

The mayor of Cantley is convinced of the necessity and urgency of such a law. David Gomes dwells on the importance of strengthening French. It just bodes well for a law like that, he says.

David Gomes, Mayor of Cantley.

“This is long overdue. We can see that French is slowly getting lost here.

— David Gomes, Mayor of Cantley

In Cantley, the application of Bill 96 will not really change much, according to the mayor. The small municipality has approximately 15% English speakers among its approximately 12,000 inhabitants. And it's important to be able to make yourself understood with all these people, says the elected official.

Davis Gomes insists on the importance of having a direct link with all citizens whether they are French or unilingual Anglophones. That said, he specifies, I encourage unilingual Anglophones to learn French to better understand the decisions we make here in Cantley.

Dozens business people, founders, CEOs and managers of Quebec companies fear the repercussions of Bill 96 on the Quebec economy. They are calling on the government to put Bill 96 on hold.

In an open letter published online Friday, these business leaders summarize why Bill 96 concerns them so much.

Nicolas Roy is one of the signatories. The Gatineau businessman is CEO of FC, a firm specializing in human resources management. He unreservedly supports the principles and foundations of the law.

But the requirements of this law are currently too overwhelming and restrictive for companies, according to him. In the current context, it would be particularly difficult for SMEs, he said.

Already weakened by the shortage of skilled labour, many of them are still trying to overcome the economic challenges caused by the pandemic, while a threat of recession looms on the horizon.

In addition, learning French in six months is a completely unrealistic requirement for the vast majority of newcomers employed in companies, says Nicolas Walsh.

It is sure that if someone does it full time, without any other obligation, I think it may be possible, he nuances.

“I know many colleagues who have had the opportunity to participate in French as a second language learning programs, especially in the federal government, and six months is not much. Then they were paid full time, and it was difficult.

—Nicolas Roy, CEO at FC

Protecting French in the workplace is essential and essential, insists Nicolas Roy. Nevertheless, the government has clearly not given sufficient consideration to the impacts of such a law on SMEs. We should go back to the drawing board, he concludes.

In addition, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity and Minister of ;Immigration, Jean Boulet, was in the Outaouais on Friday.

Minister Jean Boulet promises to help SMEs adapt to Law 96 (Archives)

Asked about the impact of Law 96 on SMEs in the region, he assured that companies will be respected in the application of the law.

There will be a one-stop shop that will be in effect from June 1, 2023, called Francisation Quebec, which will allow support for francization in the workplace, he explained. at a press briefing. We are going to be there to truly meet the needs of SMEs. We'll take it step by step.

Bill 96 is complex, says Gabriel Poliquin, counsel at Olthuis Van Ert in Ottawa.

Lawyer Gabriel Poliquin expects several elements of Bill 96 to be challenged (Archive)< /p>

This legislation significantly modifies the Charter of the French language. The lawyer explains that like the charter, Bill 96 fits into just about every corner of Quebec society.

In the past, he recalls, aspects of the Charter of the French language have been challenged in court. It is therefore to be expected that certain aspects of the new law will also be contested.

Me Poliquin also sees an irritant in the obligation of companies of at least 50 employees to have a francization project in the workplace.

It is sure that it is potentially an irritant for employers who have an additional requirement.< /p>

There is also another facet of the law that risks being challenged, according to the lawyer, namely the obligation to interact only in French with newcomers, six months after their arrival. Some might see it as, among other things, an impediment to free speech, he said.

“It's not because something is constitutionally permitted that it is necessarily a good idea in terms of public policy.

—Gabriel Poliquin, Counsel

Gabriel Poliquin lists some of the many questions raised by Bill 96, which remain unanswered for now: How to respect these provisions on a daily basis? Is it even realistic, is it possible? Is it feasible?

Changes to laws and regulations related to Bill 96 come into effect gradually until 2025.

With information from Rebecca Kwan and Emmanuelle Poisson

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