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.