The Official Languages Act, which last got a major update in 1988, comes months after Joly introduced the Liberal government's vision for language reform in Canada in February.
In a press release, the government said amending the act "is necessary to allow the law to keep pace with the social, demographic and technological realities in today's society."
In a news conference on June 15, Joly added that the goal is to "bring the official languages Act into the 21st century."
She said that "the new law recognizes that the official language of Quebec is French."
"[It] also recognizes that Quebec and Manitoba have specific protections when it comes to the use of both official languages in the courts and provincial legislatures."
What could the revisions look like?
The bill, if passed, will guarantee the right to be served and to work in French in businesses under Canadian jurisdiction in Quebec — as well as in other Canadian regions with a "strong francophone presence."
The amendment to the Act will also "explicitly state" that it would "not undermine the status, maintenance or enhancement of Indigenous languages while including the important concepts of reappropriation, revitalization and strengthening that are specific to Indigenous languages."
Joly said the bill would also oblige the federal immigration ministry to develop a support program to enhance francophone immigration outside of Quebec.
It would further amend the Act to oblige Supreme Court of Canada judges to be bilingual.
The bill lays out that it would grant Canada's official languages commissioner more power to fully enforce French-language requirements in federally-regulated workplaces across Canada.
The commissioner would also have new powers to receive complaints about "language of service and language of work" from employees of private companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec — such as banks, airports, railways, telephone companies, broadcasting and Crown corporations.
The document, titled, "English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada," is meant to articulate the government's "visions and intentions" before a bill is tabled in the House of Commons later this year.
Presented by the minister of economic development and official languages, Mélanie Joly, it attributes the decline of French to digital technology and international trade, which it says favours English.
In 1971, the Francophone population outside of Quebec was 6.6%. In 2011, it was 3.9%.
The reform document, Minister Joly says, gives us "tools we need to achieve true equality between French and English" — both inside and outside of Quebec.
What are some of the proposed revisions?
The revisions include increasing opportunities to learn both official languages by "recognizing" Francophone teachers educated here in Canada while recruiting Francophone teachers from around the world.
The government would also like to introduce teaching diplomas for French immersion, French as a second language and French as a first language.
In addition, the government has asked CBC/Radio-Canada to implement a free digital language learning tool that would be accessible to adults across the country.
The government has already committed to only appointing functionally bilingual judges to the Supreme Court of Canada and, according to the document, it has been evaluating candidates' bilingualism since 2016.
The new proposal would amend the Official Languages Act so there's no longer a written exemption for the Supreme Court of Canada to ensure bilingual judges are available.
The proposal includes a periodic review of the Official Languages Act at least every 10 years.
How are Quebec organizations reacting?
The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal issued a press release on February 19 praising the proposed changes, noting they should help Canadians be assured that "the French language and culture will continue to survive and flourish."
"The time has come to act to protect French, and the plan proposed by Minister Joly meets our expectations," said Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.
The Fonds de solidarité (FTQ), Quebec's largest central labour body, issued a response on the same day, stating that "the Government of Canada finally admits the decline of French and the need to reform this long outdated law."
"Workers in companies under federal and provincial jurisdiction in Quebec must have the same rights, and the enforcement of their rights must be the responsibility of a single body, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF)," said Denis Bolduc, general secretary of the FTQ.
MTL Blog reached out to Sabrina Mercier-Ullhorn, spokesperson for Accent Montréal, to get the group's perspective on a long-standing and very sensitive discussion around French and English in Montreal.
Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Montreal is considered the largest bilingual French-English city in North America. Do you think this is dangerous? If so, why?
Montreal is the largest French city in North America and we want it to stay that way.
First of all, it is important to distinguish between individual bilingualism and institutional bilingualism. The inhabitants of our city are among the most bilingual and trilingual in the world, which is an undeniable asset.
However, in a context where two languages [coexist] on the same territory and one of them has a higher status than the other, notably because it is considered more useful, this can jeopardize the survival of the minority language.
It is therefore important to put measures in place to fight on a level playing field. French is a minority language in America, and the only way to ensure its survival is to make French the only official language in the territory.
As is often said, "to put both languages on the same footing is to put both feet on one." Institutional bilingualism will naturally favour the more powerful of the two languages.
Sociolinguists are clear on the issue: to ensure the survival of a minority language, its usefulness must be increased, particularly within institutions.
You mention in the petition that it has become increasingly difficult to receive services in French. Can you give some examples?
Most Francophones could give you personal anecdotes on this issue.
These are essentially about the difficulty of obtaining service in French in certain businesses, convenience stores and restaurants, not to mention unilingual English signage.
An example of a situation: I go to a café and I am greeted with a "Hi." Naturally, I want service in French, so I say "Bonjour," but the café employee continues in English anyway.
The French-speaking customer is faced with a difficult choice: either say nothing, continue in English and trample on their language rights, or face the café employee to demand service in French and leave without their coffee.
This situation should never happen in a province where the only official language is French. We believe that service in French should be offered by default in Montreal and that it is natural to greet customers in French.
French should be the common language as English is in the rest of Canada and the United States.
Since it is unthinkable not to be served in English in the rest of Canada or in the United States, it should be unthinkable not to be served in French in Quebec.
In your opinion, what would be the benefits for Montreal if everything was only communicated by the City of Montreal in French?
The City has a duty to set an example.
It also has an exemplary role to play in terms of language. For French to be the common language, it must become the language of institutions, thus showing that French is the cement that binds all the inhabitants of Quebec.
As I explained earlier, institutions have a role to play in improving the status of French as a minority language.
The most effective action they can take is to ensure that this language is useful in daily life.
Ensuring the survival of French in Montreal means ensuring that our city retains the unique character that fascinates tourists from around the world.
If we do not act to ensure the survival of French, we will destroy the plural character of Montréal and contribute to its homogenization with English.