Quebec’s Bill 96 reeks of Premier François Legault’s flawed populism

Say what you will about the Coalition Avenir Québec government’s Bill 96: If you are among the nearly 6.25 million people in this province who are French-speaking, then you probably like it.

But if you are one of the 20 per cent of Quebec residents who speak English or some other language, chances are you see Bill 96 as an ominous threat.

So, if Bill 96 and the bureaucratic red tape it amost inevitably will generate, has become the best excuse yet some people have found to leave Quebec for English-speaking Canada or the freedom-loving United States, consider the following.

Would you rather be living in the U.S.A., where gun violence has reached a level so severe that children are no longer safe attending school?

Or would you prefer to take your chances with Quebec’s reinvigorated language police, who may soon be knocking at your business’s door to seize computers or their contents – as mandated by Bill 96 – because they are not in compliance with the updated language legislation?

Some useful statistics: As of 2011, English was the mother tongue of nearly 650,000 Quebecers (8 per cent of the population), constituting the second largest linguistic group in the province.

Although most of the remainder of the non-French minority is made up of allophones speaking a range of international languages, their growing presence in Quebec – combined with the declining number of historically-rooted Québécois francophones – is in itself the most important reason the CAQ government has enacted Bill 96 – as a desperate measure to artificially shore up the majority’s defences against an outside invader.

But allow us for a moment to give the leader of the CAQ government, Premier François Legault, credit where credit is due to him. Where governments in this province in the past have frequently fallen when trying to deal judiciously with the issue of language, Legault has squared the circle.

He has managed to pass a massive bill dealing with something as sensitive in Quebec as language, while reconciling – through the clever and dexterous application of populism – enough support to please what appears to be the vast majority of Quebec’s French-speaking citizens.

And he did this without having to invoke, as the Parti Québécois did so often when it was in power, the threat of Quebec sovereignty or separatism. For the CAQ is, after all, a party that Premier Legault custom-built from the beginning to his own specifications, while making him essentially the embodiment of power in this province.

But in all of this, and in keeping with Legault’s flawed populistic approach to politics, the anglo and allophone minorities have been completely left out. As such, it remains to be seen if the Premier’s magic formula can be sustained by the CAQ when Legault inevitably has to step down as leader.

In the meantime, radicals on both sides of the linguistic divide are complaining Bill 96 has either not gone far enough, or it won’t stand Supreme Court of Canada scrutiny because it violates the Canadian constitution.

By the time Bill 96 reaches Canada’s Supreme Court, where key sections most likely will be struck down, Legault may be changing his tune, and confirming to those who have long suspected, that he has indeed been a sovereignist all along, and was simply waiting for the opportune moment to reveal the truth – when it most suits him for political purposes.

It’s worth noting that during the final adoption of Bill 96 in the Quebec National Assembly on May 24, Chomedey Independent MNA Guy Ouellette was among the 29 elected members in the 125-seat chamber who voted against the law.

– Martin C. Barry –

Conservative leadership race comes down to Poilièvre or Charest

There was no mistaking that the crowd was rooting for Jean Charest last week during the Conservative Party of Canada’s French-language leadership race debate, which took place in Laval.

But on the other hand, there was also no hiding the fact that his main rival, Pierre Poilièvre, had the wind in his sails competing against Charest, even though the former Quebec Premier had the advantage of playing on “home ice” as a native Quebecer.

Since the smart money seems to be favoring Poilièvre and Charest as the likeliest front-runners in the leadership race, we are concentrating here mostly on what each is offering.

Poilièvre’s grasp of the far more radical spirit that currently animates forward-looking conservatives – including a threat to fire Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem, and Poilièvre’s embrace of cryptocurrencies, even as they deep-six – goes up against the far staider approach being taken by Charest.

And considering that Poilièvre enthusiastically embraced the truckers’ “Freedom Convoy” that occupied the nation’s capital in January and February, it’s clear he wants to be identified more with conservatives impatient for a hard-right turn, than with those, like Charest, who would rather take a more business-as-usual approach.

However, as of last week, Poilièvre was still the front-runner in the race, underscoring the fact that Conservative Party of Canada support is strongest outside Quebec, especially in western Canada.

At the same time, in spite of his popularity among CPC members in Quebec, Charest trails in support from conservatives elsewhere in the country, according to pollsters.

So, between now and September when the CPC membership finally votes, the front-runners have the summer ahead to solidify support from their backers.

What those voters will have to remember until then is that the next Conservative leader will be going head-to-head against Justin Trudeau, who has frustrated the ambitions of every CPC leader since Stephen Harper.

By late 2025, when the next general election is scheduled to take place, it should be about time Canadians were offered a real and fair choice for their next Prime Minister.

– Martin C. Barry –