Extending 101 is nonsensical

By Dermod Travis on November 4, 2009


“Alex that would be: ‘what is the impact of extending Bill 101 to the CEGEP level on the quality and promotion of the French language?’ Correct for $200.”

Recently, former Quebec premier Bernard Landry and a coalition of French language groups held a news conference to call on the Parti Quebecois to adopt a policy to restrict enrolment at English language CEGEPs.

In 2000, the Larose Commission on the State and Future of the French language, of which I was a member, reviewed the idea of extending Bill 101 limits on English eligibility to the CEGEP level. The arguments and statistics then were much the same as they are today. Unanimously, we did not carry the idea forward. In a more vernacular phrase, we buried it.

Emotional pleas may make great headlines and cultivate linguistic insecurities, but they do not make good public policy.

For a few of the activists who support the idea of extending Bill 101, this was and is a measure to promote the French language, for others a means to promote sovereignty. The latter is nonsensical and the former misses the mark.

While the proposal – if ever adopted – may satisfy a few into a false sense of security over the French language, it fails to address a far greater menace to the use of French at home and in the workplace. And that menace is not the English-speaking community or the English language, but rather the quality of French that is taught in Quebec schools regardless of whether those schools teach in French or English. Over the summer two language issues arose that were telling not so much for their respective substance, but for the reaction they generated among many of these same language activists.

The first was in regards to the fact that the percentage of allophones had reached an overall majority of enrolment in the French system’s primary and secondary levels on the island of Montreal. The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste likened it to the “Louisianisation” of Quebec.

Clearly the irony was lost on the SSJB that if you force allophones to go to French schools they would likely become the majority over time. The second was the case of a University of Sherbrooke student who had failed his university level French proficiency exam twice.

Naturally, the allophone story generated alarm, but the case of the university student passed by without a peep from those very same activists when he is the real McCoy.

If francophones attending a francophone university are repeatedly failing their French proficiency exams, something is seriously adrift in Quebec schools long before a student ever reaches CEGEP.

 And at a time when we need to be focused on providing the best education possible to our students, not just in math or science but French as well, a few wave a red herring at the media instead. Because at the end of the day proposing to extend Bill 101 to the CEGEP level may ensure a well attended news conference, but after all is said and done it is a red herring.

Many factors weigh in on a young adult’s choice of which CEGEP to attend, some substantive, some trivial. The ultimate choice may not just be a question of language, but also proximity, curricula and other considerations particular to each student regardless of linguistic background.

Not every CEGEP offers the same programs, has the same reputation or is on a convenient bus route. And while bus routes may seem a trivial side

issue, for some students who need to hold down a part-time job while studying, it can be a factor in their decision making process.

And let’s not forget that this proposal would also apply to francophone students who likely will be less than amused at having their rights stripped from them in a misguided attempt to restrict the rights of allophones.

After all the headlines, volleys and counter volleys that this proposal will undoubtedly generate, the fact remains that if you’re old enough to join the Canadian Armed Forces, you’re probably old enough to choose your CEGEP without help from Uncle Bernard.

If these activists truly want to ensure the vitality of French in Quebec they need to get back to the basics, to be creative in their policy initiatives and leave bad ideas once buried in the graveyard of ill-conceived ideas good and buried.


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