It’s a good thing for our brave men and women of language-law enforcement that as Quebec government civil servants, they have jobs for life.
Otherwise, at the rate that complaints about the use of French are being settled in the marketplace instead of by the language bureaucracy, Quebec’s finest might find themselves out of work.
Faced with the threat of losing customers to more French-friendly competitors, even businesses based outside the province have been responding to public pressure to maintain or improve services in French faster than the language inspectors can draw their tape measure.
Within days, it abandoned the idea, but not because of the tape-measure squad. In fact, the abortive name change was perfectly legal under Bill 101, which does not apply to a trademark protected by an international convention.
Rather, it was public pressure that persuaded Esso to beat a hasty retreat.
Organizations for the defence of French quickly mounted a public campaign against the change of name.
And poll results were published suggesting that 68 per cent of Quebecers were not in favour of English-only commercial names, and that for 35 per cent, such names had a negative influence on where they shopped.
"After listening to our customers’ comments," said a Quebec spokesman for Esso, "we concluded that it wasn’t worth it to convert the Marche Expresses to the On the Run name." He admitted that "we’re surprised at the vehemence of the comments we received."
And the president of the nationalist Societe St. Jean Baptiste de Montreal, who had been threatening to organize a boycott of Esso, said he was surprised by how quickly the company gave in. "We were preparing for a siege of several months," said Jean Dorion.
The Bay department-store chain moved almost as fast to announce recently that it will soon open a new customer-service centre in Montreal. This was less than four weeks after Le Journal de Montreal reported that the Bay was among several Canadian and American chains that provided poor service in French on their toll-free telephone help lines.
A spokesman for the chain assured the newspaper that service in French at the new centre, which will handle emails as well as calls from Quebec, will be "impeccable."
In this case, no one even threatened a consumer boycott of the business. And as in the case of Esso’s convenience store, the change in company policy was not the result of coercive legislation or government intervention. The bad publicity of a newspaper article was effective enough pressure.
The newspaper named a dozen chains that provided service to francophones that was poor and in some cases rude. But it also listed almost twice as many that realized it was in their interest in a predominantly French-speaking market to provide good service in that language (one of them was Esso).
And, sometimes, government intervention on behalf of the French language is deemed unnecessary and even harmful by the very people who would supposedly benefit from it.
Two weeks ago, Action democratique du Quebec introduced a "Shrek bill" in the National Assembly to amend the Cinema Act to require that the French version of a film shown in this province be dubbed here.
This was after party leader Mario Dumont’s children were unable to understand some of the Parisian expressions in the animated movie Shrek the Third, which had been dubbed in France.
The Quebec performers’ union, the Union des artistes, has long been in favour of such legislation. But local film distributors and theatre owners were against it - and so were the province’s two leading dubbing studios themselves.
The latter said the major Hollywood studios don’t like to be told what to do and might retaliate against an attempt at coercion by boycotting the local studios entirely, jeopardizing a local industry that has been growing over the years.
Besides, already more than 70 per cent of the French versions of films shown in this province, and virtually all of those distributed by some of the "majors," are dubbed here.
If some of the studios have got the message that Quebecers prefer entertainment that speaks to them in Quebecois French, it’s because they heard it in the marketplace.