"SPOONGATE!" - TIME TO DISSOLVE THE OQLF AND GET QUEBEC MOVING AGAIN

By Beryl Wajsman on June 22, 2013

So, now the barely legible words  "what's your mix" and "Sweet moosic" on the plastic spoons of Menchie's yogurt has drawn the attention of the OQLF language troopers.  The words are moulded into the plastic spoons in all 305 North American locations. They are barely legible because the spoons are all monotone.  But Menchie's has been told by an inspector that they may have violated Bill 101 and the issue was under investigation. Trouble is, only three of the locations are in Quebec and the spoons are produced at the franchise operator's American headquarters. That bit of  reason and sanity  has failed to move the guardians of  French purity.

It seems that between Quebec's language lunacy, constant strikes, the highest taxes in North America and Mme. Marois' "permanent moratoriums" on natural gas development on the South Shore, Anticosti oil and northern uranium, the only place  French will have to be protected is the unemployment line. It's the only growth industry.

Can anyone imagine the look on the American executives faces when they get the request from Menchie's in Montreal for "French" spoons? Is it any wonder that there is almost no foreign business expansion into Quebec? Who wants to put up with this?

It was just a few months ago that the Minister responsible for the OQLF admitted that inspectors had to exercise more "tempered reason and judgment" after "Pastagate."  Well, either that statement was just pandering to calm things down and no new instructions were issued, or the inspectors - like the proverbial lunatics - are running the asylum. If the Minister lied, she should resign. If she can't control the inspectors she should resign. Not much wiggle room here. Quebec cannot afford to be made a worldwide laughingstock again. It's not just about businesses avoiding Quebec. It's also about our credit rating being downgraded leading to higher borrowing costs and higher taxes.

But on a human level, imagine the kind of venality it takes for someone to make this kind of complaint to the OQLF. If French cultural supremacists continue to incite - without any restraint of consequence from the state - there will be civil disobedience at the least, and violence at worst. And let the supremacists not think that anyone in the world will be fooled into thinking that the non-francophones in Quebec are lawless and "uncontrollable." From  CNN to the BBC the world has seen the face of Quebec cultural prejudice from "Pastagate" to "Pastrygate" to"Turbangate" to now "Spoongate" - which has already gone viral on social media - turbocharged since the election of this government.

As much as non-francophones are fed up with the abuse of their dignity, Francophones are fed up with the paternalism of a government making them look like children in the face of the world.

Another matter that makes the "Spoongate" affair particularly galling was brought to our attention by attorney and Montreal West councillor Dino Mazzone. He pointed out that there is regulation respecting the language of commerce and business, chapter C-11, r.9, that sets forth exceptions to Section 51 of the Charter of the French Language. Section 3, paragraph (6) states: "An inscription on a product may be exclusively in a language other than French in the following cases: [...] the product is from outside Quebec and the inscription is engraved, baked or inlaid in the product itself, riveted or welded to it or embossed on it, in a permanent manner." 

Clearly Menchie's spoons fall under this exception. But you know what, what citizenry can live like this? Measuring the most mundane daily activity with legal scrutiny? Quebec small businesses already spend some 19 full working days a year on government compliance according to several studies. We don't need exceptions to law in order to live! 

The other point is that it cannot be left to activists like us alone to fight this abuse - in the Assembly and elsewhere - but businesspeople have to begin to push back. Some, like Harry Schick of Swiss Vienna already have. People can't buckle at the sight of these thugs. 

It is time for the OQLF to be shut down! It is a rogue agency and it's time is done. Let the government keep inspectors for large outdoor signage but nothing more. The first language office was set up by the Lesage government further to recommendations in the federal Tremblay Commission on the Constitution of 1956 endorsed by Prime Minister Louis St.Laurent. But its role was educational and persuasive. And it remained so under the Union National government of the late 1960s even under its Bill 63 language law.  Only with the advent of Bill 22 under Bourassa's Liberals and then Bill 101 under the PQ did the OLF become coercive and compulsive. 

It is no longer enough for Philippe Couillard and his Liberals and Francois Legault and the CAQ to say that there is "consensus" across all ethnic groups in Quebec on Bill 101. There is no consensus, and there can never be acquiescence, to psychological brutality and the violation of the rule of law. And that is what the OQLF practices. It is also becoming eminently clear that this government wants it that way. Well, Quebecers will not be beaten into submission. And if the opposition wants to gain respect and votes across all groups, Bill 1 of the new Assembly session in the fall should be "An Act to Dissolve the OQLF." The Liberals and the CAQ should introduce it jointly. But if the CAQ won't go along, then Mr. Couillard and the Liberals must do it themselves. If they do not, the credibility gap may be to wide to ever close.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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