Tom Mulcair: The CAQ's busy year of attacks on anglophones

There have been so many antagonistic moves by François Legault’s government, it’s hard to know which ones to include.

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The Coalition Avenir Québec government is applying an age-old recipe: When you’re a politician who’s in it really, really deep, blame the anglos.

Premier François Legault is in free fall in the polls. His government is on the ropes in endless files. Call 1-800-ANGLAIS works every time.

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There have been so many intentionally antagonistic moves against the English-speaking community since Legault was re-elected, it’s hard to know which ones to include in this wrap-up.

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Let’s start with the attack on English universities.

No doubt trying to outdo Bill 96, with its warrantless search and seizure of computers and cellphones by the tongue troopers, the CAQ went after Bishops, Concordia and McGill. That move was self-destructive, hurting all of Quebec and its reputation as a hub of higher education. (With Boston, Montreal is one of the two largest university cities in North America.)

Legault’s minister of higher education, Pascale Déry, appears intent on having as her legacy these unbridled attacks on world class institutions. You have to wonder what goes through her mind as Legault is obliged to tell journalists he doesn’t actually want McGill to leave Quebec.

Last weekend those universities made an updated proposal for three tiers of tuition that would allow the government to charge more for certain disciplines (recuperating more of the costs) while still remaining competitive with tuition rates at universities in other provinces.

If Legault were to finally pay heed to the chorus of voices against the scheme, including from Montreal’s chamber of commerce, he’d back off. Of course that would require that he be acting in good faith. Instead, McGill says there has been virtually no response from the government. For now, universities are essentially negotiating with themselves.

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Meanwhile, the anglophone community is still stuck with Jean-François Roberge. Although he’s no longer wreaking havoc as education minister, his new stint as language minister has proven disastrous. He regularly shoots from the lip, apparently with as little research as his colleague Déry.

He’ll read a torqued newspaper headline (always about the next great peril to French) and, without providing evidence he’s given it even the slightest study, pronounce that he’s got the perfect solution to a hitherto unknown problem.

The most recent case in point was his all-caps explosion upon learning there was such a thing as vocational education in English. He vowed to shut it down, apparently unaware that training people for jobs (where they’ll have no problem picking up French) is actually a good thing in a province with a serious labour shortage.

However, if there was one bureaucratic move that took the cake for language zealotry, it was the decision to stop issuing certificates of eligibility to English school for people over 18.

Ever since Bill 101 was enacted in 1977, there’s been a principle of ensuring that kids who were eligible for English school but whose parents chose to send them to French school would not lose their eligibility and those of their children in the future.

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In the words of the law, they were “deemed” to have received their education in English for the purposes of determining eligibility even if, in fact, they went to French school.

As word spread in the community, alarmed parents (and I  know several) have simply been applying for eligibility certificates and switching their kids to English. The 18-year-old rule for eligibility certificates seems intended to reinforce the new restrictions on access to English CEGEP, but it’s backfiring badly.

There’s a profound irony there, because these are often the parents who are the most open and engaging toward French. They just don’t trust the Quebec government to respect its end of the bargain.

Fearless prediction: When the government sees the number of eligible kids who are being switched to English, the zealots will denounce the situation that they themselves created.

Tom Mulcair, a former leader of the federal NDP, served as minister of the environment in the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest.

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