DID THE CHARTER OF THE FRENCH LANGUAGE (Bill 101) HELP KEEP QUEBEC WITHIN CANADA?

Thirty years ago today, after 40 days of debate, the Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 101 on the status of the French language.

At that time I was hosting a call-in program “Exchange” at CJAD. The passage of Bill 101 plunged the English community in Quebec into turmoil. There was enormous pressure from some elements in the community to protest the bill publicly. I refused to go along with this. Despite injustices in bill 101 (most of them subsequently corrected by the courts), it seemed to me the central thrust of the bill – respect for French Quebecers – was sound. Although subsequently I had many bitter arguments on air with the bill’s main proponent, Dr. Camil Laurin. about his harsh application of some provisions of the bill affecting the English community.

For my stance, I was harshly criticized in some community English newspapers as being a quasi-separatist, ex-Jesuit from Toronto who didn’t know what he was talking about.
Now, 30 years later, it would seem my judgement of the bill has been vindicated. The reason is two-fold: Bill 101 showed that a major piece of language legislation could be passed by a province within Canada; and by protecting and promoting the French language, the Bill gave French Quebecers the respect they craved. Before he died Dr. Laurin conceded that his language bill had cut the ground from under one of the separatists’ main arguments for getting out of Canada.

On this anniversary, I would strenuously argue that Bill 101 turned out to be a major bulwark keeping Quebec in Canada.

Thirty years a go a great deal of ink was spilled on those who fled on the 401 to Toronto; perhaps it would now be appropriate to salute those who stayed.

10 Comments »

  1. 1
    SUZANNE Says:

    If it did…at what price?

    I hate Bill 101. It decimated the English Speaking community of Quebec City.

  2. 2
    Barbara Says:

    There was no need for any of them to have left. Those of us who stayed in Quebec have no problems coping — even if our French is less than fluent, thanks to the ease in tension that Bill 101 brought about.

  3. 3

    Suzanne – Many of the “angryphones” who hated Bill 101 30 years ago have come to respect the benefits for the province as a whole of the language law. It is difficult to see how not passing the bill would have bolstered the English-speaking community in Quebec City.

    Barbara – Agreed. A great deal of ink was spilled 30 years ago on those who fled along the 401 to Toronto; perhaps it would be appropriate now to salute those who stayed in Montreal, Quebec City and elsewhere in the province.

  4. 4
    Kay Dunn Says:

    Hi, Neil. You sure are busy with this blog. I agree it’s time to celebrate those of us who chose to stay in Quebec and adapt to a new reality. I felt very threatened by Bill 101 until I realized that our French schools would never have opened their doors to non-francophones without a law forcing them to.

  5. 5

    Hi Kay – Thanks for the great comment. It is so marvellous that there is fundamental social and language peace in our beautiful province and I think Bill 101, ironically, has played a role in that.

  6. 6
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Mr. McKenty, essentially a good man, does not realized the inherent racism in his comments. This racism manifests on two fronts:

    1) He writes that it always seemed to him that the central thrust of Bill 101, “increased respect for francophone Quebecers”, was sound. Putting aside the fact that virtually every totalitarian regime on the face of the planet, such as Cuba, enacts laws that legislate respect, Mr. McKenty ignores the respect that francophone Quebecers’ ancestors had for Quebec’s first majority, which is no respect at all. How quickly the old boys’ White European Network metes out rights and privileges to their own — English or French — while ignoring those that don’t look like them, such as Canada’s aboriginal population.
    Had the first Habitants who paddled their way down the St. Lawrence River 400 odd years ago respected the existing common language then in place — as Quebec legislation demands of today’s newcomers and minorities — we’d all be speaking Huron.

    2) Bill 101 is a race law. I refer specifically to the language of education provisions of Bill 101 which divide Quebecers into two separate and distinct civil rights categories based upon who one’s parents are and what their classification is. I should not have to remind Mr. McKenty — who apparently finds these provisions “sound” — what kind of regimes in the world do that.

    Mr. McKenty, I would rather live in a separate, independent country of Quebec that respected individual and minority rights than in a Quebec within Canada that doesn’t.

  7. 7

    Tony – These arguments seem so stale and irrelevant. The Rest of Canada treated its native minorities exactly the same as Quebec. Quebeckers, including the English minority, are living in a province that rightfully boasts of social peace and is bursting with economic pride. Both are partially the result of Bill 101.

  8. 8
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Racism is never stale and irrelant…except, of course, to those that advocate and tolerate its use and refuse to acknowledge its presence.

    To you, Mr. McKenty, the racist practises of Bill 101 are “sound” and justifiable. To me they aren’t. Indeed, they do NOT justify keeping Quebec within Canada. Canada is a great and wonderful concept but a higher concept is that of freedom and individual rights, and if one concept has to be sacrified for the other, it is Canada that must be sacrificed for individual freedom, not the other way around.

    As to the relevance of how “the rest of Canada” has treated its native populative to this discussion, I have no idea, so you’d have to elaborate.

    As for your use of the term “social peace”, I would remind you of its origins in the Quebec political lexicon: it was first invoked and popularized by Robert Bourassain in response to a terrorist attack, a bomb that was set off to frighten and discourage Quebecers from challenging the sign provisions of Bill 101. Bourassa’s response to the bomb was to swifty make a public statement laying down his intentions not to make any changes to Bill 101 specifically to maintain “social peace”. In other words, he caved in and appeased terror. May I suggest that YOUR use of that term is inappropriate, especially when you couple it with the words “rightfully boasts”.

    As for “economic pride”, I simply don’t know what planet you are on in order to make such a statement. I suppose when a province is in such dire economic straights that when any economic progress is made that it registers, relative to its horrible position, a large blip.

    But this is just grade school Sophistry and manipulation of data. It’s like saying that the best economic shape the USA was in was during the Great Depression. And if we manipulate the economic data in the way you seem to do for Quebec, this would be a truism.

    The largest single annual increase in the S&P 500 stock index occurred in 1933, smack in the middle of the Great Depression, when a 65% increase was recorded. In the four previous years following the ’29 Crash, the market had lost 75% of its value; then, in ’33, the slight increase it recorded was so huge relative its greatly reduced value that it registered as a 65% increase…a gain never matched since.

    That, my dear boy, is pretty much analogous to the “bursting with economic pride” you must be referring to vis a vis Quebec, which is, essentially, a Ghost Town dependent upon the largess of equalization payments and the crumbs thrown to Quebec divisions of large corporations via contracts that Ottawa insists Quebec gets in order to imagine that they’re making any progress at all.

  9. 9

    Well, I believe I know what planet you are living on. You fled Quebec many years ago and settled, if I am not mistaken, in Arizona, that great state that is so welcoming to Mexican immigrants.

    As for your diatribe on Quebec’s social and economic well-being, I can’t think of a single Quebecker speaking any language who would recognize your blinkered portrait. Even your conservative friend, Stephen Harper, believes Quebec is a valuable “nation” within Canada. And so do we all.

  10. 10
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Yes, I left Quebec in 1994 after Quebec anglos, like yourself, once again voted massively for a separatist party…called the Liberal Party of Quebec. No way I was going to stay after that.

    I’ve never regretted my decision for a minute. My blood pressure has improved ever since.

    No surprise that you value Quebec as a nation, Mr. McKenty. However, the difference is that your Quebec nation is one you want within Canada; I, on the other hand, want it as a separate, independent nation outside of Canada.

    Oh, and when you decide, Mr. McKenty, to actually address the substance of my remarks, I’ll continue this dialogue.


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