Quebec’s English-language education bill is everyone’s villain

English and French condemn Bill 103, but for very different reasons

Écoles passerelles - Loi 115

.It’s supposedly about equity. What’s really emerging is a confrontation between Quebec’s French majority and English-speaking minority.
At the National Assembly, leaders of both communities appear daily before the parliamentary committee studying Bill 103. It restricts children from gaining a right to subsidized English schooling by first attending an unsubsidized private English school.
All condemn Bill 103 unanimously, but for totally opposite reasons. The anglophone witnesses warn the bill will block a constitutionally recognized route to English schooling, even while the English-speaking community declines.
The francophones decry Bill 103 as opening the door to English schooling for the rich. They demand that unsubsidized private English schools also be prohibited to all except those whose parents studied in English in Canada.
The debate in committee remains decorous. But the real action starts Saturday in Montreal at a monster rally convened by the Coalition Against Bill 103, which “promises a hot fall” unless the government embraces its demands. To bring out the crowds, Quebec’s most popular stars of song, stage and screen are trumpeted in publicity on Twitter, You Tube, multiple websites – even Bloc Québécois MPs’ mass mailings.
Among organizations sponsoring the demonstration, Quebec’s intelligentsia will be represented by the unions speaking for the writers, the actors, the teachers, the public service, as well as the labour federations, the four separatist political parties and even the NDP. The supposed issue is equity, under the bannered slogan: “Our language does not have a price tag: Bill 101 is not for sale!” Indeed, tuition at unsubsidized English schools costs thousands.
But almost all 32 sponsors pursue secession and a strictly French Quebec. The Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) contained no restricted access to unsubsidized private English schools when adopted in 1977. No one complained.
But, in 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms extended the right to English schooling to the children of Canadian citizens who had studied in English anywhere in Canada, not just in Quebec. It also granted French or English minority schooling to the children of all parents whose mother tongue was English or French. This now applies to French-speaking parents outside Quebec, but Quebec was allowed to postpone promulgating this avenue to English schooling.
The Charter also contained this: “Citizens of Canada of whom any child has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in English or French in Canada, have the right to have all their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the same language.” That gave new meaning to unsubsidized English schools.
Twice, in 1993 and 2002, the National Assembly voted to restrict or eliminate this access to English schooling. Twice, in 2005 and last October, the Supreme Court of Canada declared each unconstitutional as written.
Now, the Charest government tries again with Bill 103. It requires three years minimum attendance for the right to English schooling to be considered, then sets conditions for bureaucrats to ponder before the right can be granted. The anglo community feels that a constitutional right has been made meaningless.
The French political class now clamours Quebec’s favourite myth to eradicate this constitutional right: French in Quebec, they say, is frail and could disappear unless English is further repressed.
Between 1966 and 2006, Quebec suffered a net exodus of 28,210 people of French mother tongue, but 428,245 people whose mother tongue was not French. Between 1996 and 2006, people of French mother tongue increased by 175,410, people speaking French at home increased even more, by 255,075.
During that same decade, people of English mother tongue declined by 14,695 – their smallest loss in 40 years. Since 1867, the proportion of English-speaking Quebeckers has declined at every census. Since the 1970s, they also declined in absolute numbers at every census. But still French is threatened?
The solution to stabilize their schools and their community is finally to promulgate the right of all English-speaking parents to send their children to English schools. At present, only 49 per cent of children of English mother tongue are in English schools.
But in Quebec, myth is stronger than fact. Whether the coalition or the government wins, the anglos lose. That’s heartless, but that’s Quebec.

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