While pundits have focused on the blow the Oct. 2 byelection in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon represents to the Coalition Avenir du Québec government of Premier François Legault, the loss of one seat to the Parti Québécois in no way threatens the government’s overwhelming majority.
But the result shows the PQ may have something other parties in the National Assembly lack right now: momentum. With momentum comes a potential threat to a government that owes its success to having supplanted the PQ in the first place.
Bad news, then, for the CAQ; worse news for Quebec’s English-speaking community.
The PQ is even more hawkish on language than the CAQ and remains committed to a more nationalist — read sovereigntist — path. One does not need a crystal ball to understand that, in addition to shoring up his party’s support in the Quebec City area by revisiting the controversial “third link” between the provincial capital and Lévis — a broken promise that cost the CAQ dearly — the premier will doubtless try to protect against any weakness on his language and identity flanks. This would put Quebec’s English-speaking community in a familiar position: under the bus.
The impact of the byelection results is one of many issues on which the Quebec Community Groups Network is focused and working to address as the new political season unfolds.
Delighted as we were by the Superior Court ruling that Bill 40 violates the constitutional right of linguistic minorities to manage their own schools, we were dismayed when the Legault government appealed this well-founded ruling. Our board recently resolved to seek leave to intervene before the Quebec Court of Appeal. We will develop our position in consultation with the Quebec English School Boards Association and have sought funding from the federal Court Challenges Program.
Meanwhile, we are watching other education-reform legislation, Bill 23, and are glad provincial Liberals persuaded Education Minister Bernard Drainville to shelve governance portions of the proposed legislation while the issue of our school boards remains before the courts.
The QCGN will also participate in a study by the Senate committee on official languages on health and social services, a matter of vital importance to the English-speaking community. Recent federal legislation (Bill C-13) — against which the inclusion of references to Quebec’s Bill 96 we argued vigorously — have complicated health-care issues.
Then, of course, there is the impending passage by the National Assembly of the CAQ’s Bill 15 restructuring health and social services — without wide public consultation — which will further erode our influence over the health and social institutions we created and maintained for generations.
In the meantime, we await with justifiable trepidation the “action plan” on the French language to be presented by Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister of the French language. As a first salvo, Roberge announced Thursday he will be raising tuition for foreign and Canadian students studying in English universities, among other measures. In an interview with La Presse, he promised an all-out battle to “regain ground” on the language front and vowed to “go as far as Quebec’s jurisdiction, laws and taxation” allow.
Finally, recent media reports about the ways Bill 96 constrains Quebec’s economy — by making it more difficult for companies to operate here — are raising alarms in the business community. We are taking note. Recent incidents demonstrating how Bill 96’s implementation harms individuals not only generate concern among English-speaking Quebecers, but those who might want to relocate here. It also illustrates the growing gap between government rhetoric and reality on the ground.
Somehow, Finance Minister Eric Girard, who is also the minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, managed recently to put the blame on Montreal — where the impact of Bill 96 is most fiercely felt — for Quebec’s lagging behind Ontario economically. He seems not to have understood the role his own government’s attitudes and legislation have played.
Clearly, this is a time for the QCGN to be especially vigilant on behalf of the English-speaking community.
Eva Ludvig is president of the Quebec Community Groups Network.
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