Language minister Christine St. Pierre yesterday announced her plan of action that contains little action, hardly any plan, no clearly defined goals and no coercive measures.
This plan was cooked up quickly with two goals in mind.
One is to make it look like an answer to the data from the 2006 census and recent studies showing French is losing ground on the island and in the Greater Montreal area. The other is to clean up the damage caused by the recent chaotic release of the Office québécois de la langue française's five-year report.
Faced by the Parti Québécois and the Action démocratique, the Charest government was in a hurry to say something, anything, on language. This forced St. Pierre to table her plan before the president of the Conseil supérieur de la langue française tables his own in June.
But particularly striking is how much this situation mirrors what happened in 1996. Then, too, worrisome data had been released on the state of French.
Then, too, Lucien Bouchard's government feared the language issue and refused to beef up Bill 101. Then, too, the same solution was found: Get the language minister to present a plan of action instead.
On April 3, 1996, Louise Beaudoin tabled what she called her "bouquet de mesures." Like St.
Pierre's plan, Beaudoin's plan had no corrective measures for the francization of small and medium-sized businesses and said no to the extension of Bill 101 to CEGEPs.
St. Pierre said she'll invite business people to a "rendezvous d'affaires" to "encourage" them to use more French in the workplace. Beaudoin created a "groupe de travail." Later, like St. Pierre, Beaudoin would announce more money for the OQLF.
On April 12, 1996, Beaudoin and Pauline Marois published an open letter in Le Devoir. Like St.Pierre, they wrote they wouldn't reopen Bill 101, without offering any reasons. On the issue of CEGEPs, the two ministers wrote that "no coercive measures could, at this stage, guarantee" that more allophones would go to French CEGEPs.
Instead, they suggested that creating language-based school boards instead of denominational ones would attract more allophones to French CEGEPs. So that's what the PQ government did. The result was that from 1996 to today, the percentage of allophones who choose an English CEGEP after going to a French high school actually went up from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
The plan's overall goal, the two PQ ministers wrote, was "to make sure that the right of Quebecers to work in French, to be served in French, to buy products labelled in French" would be respected. Yesterday, 12 years later, St. Pierre repeated the same thing, almost word for word.
For memory's sake, facing mounting criticism, Beaudoin announced in the spring of 1996 the re-creation of the Commission de protection de la langue française - axed again in 2002 - but gave it little money and few human resources.
With one lukewarm, politically motivated "plan of action" after another, Liberal or Péquiste, we are now facing the French language becoming a minority one in the Montreal area within the next decade or two.
St. Pierre now has to face the plan by a number of English-language school boards to use public funds to fight against Bill 104 before the Supreme Court. This means the possible striking down of a 2002 law meant to close a loophole that allowed allophone or francophone children to go to public English schools after spending a year spent in an expensive, unsubsidized private English school.
(These certificates of eligibility also extend to the children's siblings and their future descendants.) This court challenge was launched by parents represented by former Alliance Quebec president Brent Tyler. With no surprise, it is also supported by the Quebec English School Boards Association, whose executive director, David Birnbaum, is a former director of Alliance Quebec.
Good luck, Madame St. Pierre.
Maybe Madame Beaudoin could tell you her own stories about Alliance Quebec ... She's got plenty of them.
Liberals sing from PQ songbook on language issue
St. Pierre's plan of action for defending French contains no plan, little action