Several Liberal MPs from the Montreal region will take part in a demonstration on Saturday against the Quebec government’s plan to reform its Charter of the French language.
While no federal minister is expected to join the march, the presence of Liberal MPs such as Anthony Housefather and Annie Koutrakis underscores opposition to Quebec’s Bill 96 within the Liberal caucus in Ottawa.
Organized by groups that represent the province’s English-speaking minority, Saturday’s protest is expected to begin at Dawson College and end at the Montreal offices of Quebec Premier Francois Legault.
Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, who represents the westernmost riding on the island of Montreal, voiced his opposition to Bill 96 in an interview Friday. He added that it is “very likely” to take part in the protest on Saturday.
“It is not a bill that has consensus. The Conseil du patronat du Québec has many concerns about its impacts. What I want is a Quebec that is strong, that can move forward, that has a strong economy,” he said.
Brossard-St-Lambert MP Alexandra Mendès said she could not participate in the protest, but added that she supported “most of the demands of the Anglophone and allophone communities of Quebec.”
Spokespersons for Housefather, who has been in close contact with protest organizers, and Koutrakis have confirmed that MPs will be marching against Bill 96. The offices of other MPs expected to join the march have not did not respond to confirmation requests.
Quebec’s “historical responsibilities”
Quebec’s minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, vigorously defended Bill 96 in the face of criticism from English-speaking groups and Indigenous communities.
According to his office, the defense of the French language must above all be done in Quebec.
“The protection, enhancement and promotion of the French language are historic responsibilities of the Government of Quebec that we fully intend to continue to assume,” declared the press officer for Jolin-Barrette, Élisabeth Gosselin-Bienvenue.
“It is up to the elected representatives of the Quebec nation to debate Bill 96.”
Introduced a year ago, Bill 96 would make several changes to the 1977 Charter of the French Language (also known as Bill 101), strengthening the status of French in “all spheres of the society “.
To ensure that French is “the official and common language of Quebec,” the government would impose new obligations related to the use of French in businesses with 25 to 49 employees. It would also control access to English-language colleges and regulate interactions in a language other than French between the Quebec government and the province’s citizens and businesses.
Housefather, who represents the federal riding of Mount Royal, criticized several elements of Bill 96 last year, including the fact that it restricts access to government services in English.
“Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of people who considered themselves part of the English-speaking community in Quebec will no longer be eligible to receive certain state services in English,” he said.
He also criticized the fact that Quebec preemptively invoked the notwithstanding clause, which will limit the possibility of a legal challenge.
“The idea of isolating a bill from potential legal challenges is deeply troubling. The public would have no way of knowing if a right has been violated,” Housefather said.
He said he was also preparing an open letter against Bill 96 which would be published after Bill 96 is passed by the National Assembly of Quebec. The province’s legislature will recess next week and resume on May 24.