During last summer's provincial-election campaign the PQ floated the idea of strengthening Bill 101, promising to extend the restrictions on mother-tongue francophones to CEGEP students and forcing small businesses with more than 11 employees to operate in French only.
Last week the government announced they would be dropping the idea of extending the law to adults, saying both CEGEP students and adult- and vocational-education students can continue to study in the language of their choice, unencumbered by the law, which streams students based on their parents' education.
We argued then that the idea was one that would not likely pass in the National Assembly or pass muster at the court level.
Well, we were right on the former count and now don't have to consider the latter, after the PQ's minority government decided not to test oppositions parties' resolve in Quebec City and dropped the idea of restricting CEGEP admissions at English colleges to only those students who qualified for English schooling under Bill 101. It's a compromise that allows the PQ to maintain their nationalist credentials without having to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube if and when the inevitable court challenge overturned the law – which it inevitably would have. A law telling kids where to go to school sort-of makes sense in our hyper-sensitive-to-language province, but telling adults where they can learn is a little too restrictive. The notion is doubly galling given the PQ's raison d'etre is based in self-determination – and that runs counter to the proposal to get Bill 101 extended to post-secondary education.
Extending Bill 101 to small businesses with less than 50 employees is low-hanging fruit for the provincial government – but it occurs to us that the enforcement of that law might prove more problematic than the passing of the law. The province's Office Quebecoise de la Langue Francaise (OQLF) is locked in a pitched court battle with a number of international retailers who are fighting the OQLF's new 'interpretation' of sign laws, which the language cops say obliges major retailers like Wal-mart to have a French descriptor in front of their names, like 'Magasin Wal-Mart' or 'Cafe Starbucks,' while reps for the retail chains say the law says no such thing. It will be very interesting court battle – and from here, it looks like how that turns out will have a big impact on West Island businesses, especially those that are operating at or around the magical 11-employee level.