After several highly-publicized stories involving the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) in Montreal over the past couple of weeks, the language debate has once again been placed under the microscope.
And with a pandemic already ravaging small businesses in the city, some have expressed frustration with the OQLF, even petitioning for the province's language authority to be abolished.
While the debate rages on, a group of concerned marketing experts in Quebec is taking the opportunity to provide a service for small business owners looking to navigate the province's language laws.
Meet the Office québécois de la langue anglaise (OQDLLA). We spoke with George Zikos, founder of the OQDLLA to find out what it's all about.
"We want to help smaller businesses and even larger businesses navigate the language laws so they’re not getting fined and they do things properly because this is Quebec — we have to follow the laws," Zikos told MTL Blog.
Utilizing the grand dictonaire terminologique of the OQLF, the OQDLLA helps business owners make sense of sometimes subjective signage standards and regulations.
"I’ve seen firsthand the stress that inspectors can bring to owners of mom and pop businesses," said Zikos in a press release.
"After seeing the news stories about Italia Patisserie and Kitchen 73, I had an idea of how I could help."
Why do companies need this service?
Zikos explained that the OQDLLA services both French and English businesses but that many of the organization's clients hire the OQDLLA to guarantee their English communications are clear and make sense.
"We notice a lot of companies using Google Translate for their communications and you can tell that their websites aren’t written well," he said.
The OQDLLA doesn't exclusively service Quebec-based businesses, either. The organization has clients from all over the French-speaking world.
"We work with French people every single day. They require excellent English communications to speak to their clients either in this province or in other countries," said Zikos.
Improving the quality of English services in Quebec
What the OQDLLA isn't is a tongue-in-cheek insult of the OQLF.
Instead, the OQDLLA aims to work with the province's language watchdog more closely to ensure that Quebec businesses have the potential for success not only in the province but across the globe.
"There are many Québec products and services we believe offer consumers everywhere a unique experience — from food to film and music to technology," he said.
"If we make certain that everybody knows the rules and the laws, they will follow them."
"We live in a francophone province in a francophone city from a legislative perspective, but the reality of Montreal is far different," the leader of Mouvement Montréal said in an interview with MTL Blog.
"So, for us, it was important to re-establish the identity of Montreal, which is one that is inclusive."
"We want to make clear that we want companies on the Island of Montreal to be able to operate in both languages without interference from the provincial government," Holness said.
And it calls for a review of the city's hiring processes to allow anglophones with "functional-level, but not high-level, French" to land municipal jobs.
He would also amend article 13 of the city charter to change Montreal from "a French-speaking city that, according to the law, also provides services to its citizens in English," to a bilingual one.
A lot of people agree, Holness says
"This is not a contested question," Holness said, citing a survey showing most Montrealers believe the city is bilingual. "We all know Montreal is bilingual and multicultural and it is something that we should embrace and recognize."
"Moreover, Montreal beyond that is even trilingual," he continued. "There are people from all over the world who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian. And all of these languages make up the diversity of Montreal, and it enriches us all."
Rather than contributing to the decline of French in Montreal, Holness said his language policies would help preserve it by offering non-francophones incentives to learn.
"The fact that we are going to incentivize and ameliorate the chances of anglophones to work in the City of Montreal means they'll be able to learn French through their employment activity," he said. "We're going to be increasing la francisation des anglophones."
"Right now, what's happening is that we're excluding anglophones," he continued. "They're moving to demerged cities such as Westmount, such as Côte Saint-Luc, such as Kirkland. They're not being incorporated into the reality and to the economic life of Montreal, and we're just pushing them all away."
Holness wants more jobs for people with spotty French
If elected, Mouvement Montréal would work to create a more inclusive municipal workforce because it's currently falling short in terms of ethnic and linguistic diversity, he said.
Of the city's roughly 25,000 municipal employees, "only about 2% of those in management positions are visible minorities and even less of those are anglophone," Holness claimed.
To change that he plans to lower the French language requirements for municipal jobs.
"Right now, when you go in for a [municipal] job, there is an evaluation based on your capacity to speak French," he said.
"So, we want to create assessments and evaluations of language that are less severe to allow individuals to get into the workforce. And then they can learn French, once they are on the job, through their interactions with their coworkers and with the public."
"The idea is that anglophones, especially those that are visible minorities, should have an easier time getting into the workforce," he continued.
'They don't want to be inclusive'
On November 7 people will vote to elect a mayor as well as 46 members of Montreal's City Council.
The current mayor, Projet Montréal's Valérie Plante, is seeking re-election and her main challenger is the previous mayor, Ensemble Montréal's Denis Coderre.
As Plante recently introduced an "action plan" to promote the French language in Montreal and Coderre is reportedly open to provincial government-led language reform, Holness accused his opponents of trying to impose provincial ideas on the metropolis.
"Valérie Plante is from Rouyn-Noranda, Denis Coderre is from Joliette," he continued. "And there's this whole idea that the regions are imposing on Montreal their vision for Montreal. And the question is, what do Montrealers want for their city?"
"Many people across the region say Montreal is the only francophone city in North America, and they're right, but Montreal also has a bilingual multicultural reality," he said. "So you have Quebec City trying to impose an identity on Montreal does not meet reality, which is multilingual and multicultural."
"We need a multilingual and multicultural policy and beyond that, a political party that reflects that diversity through and through," he added.
Projet Montréal does not reflect that diversity, he concluded, explaining how he helped organize a grassroots anti-racism movement, which he says prompted the city's public consultation agency to hold a series of hearings on systemic discrimination in 2019.
As a result, Plante created a commissioner on systemic discrimination and promised to hire more minorities for municipal jobs. But Holness had sharp words for the mayor, saying she only took those steps out of "obligation."
"The reason why there was a public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination is because the administration had an all-white French executive committee when they were elected in 2017. Period. That's their vision of Montreal," he said.
"They don't want to be inclusive," he said. "Mouvement Montréal, my political party, is by its very nature, authentically diverse. We've done in two months what it took them nearly two decades to do, which is have a diverse team."
While there's a myriad of possible reasons as to why Trudeau is ahead in the province, his handling of the pandemic could be the biggest. Among the Quebecers polled, 46% believed that health care is the most pressing issue in the upcoming election and 53% said the current prime minister "has performed well on pandemic management."
Politics and the Fourth Wave: As concern over COVID rises, are the Liberals poised to benefit?… https://t.co/znhujEMXZU
"We, the undersigned, demand that the Government of Quebec publicly reject, as of now, the idea of a mandatory vaccination passport and that it commit itself to do like the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has done, that is to say, prohibit the obligation to present a vaccination passport in order to attend certain events and practice certain activities," the petition states.
Samson, a former Coalition Avenir Québec member who switched sides in June, held a press conference about the petition alongside Conservative Party of Quebec leader Eric Duhaime on August 12. They explained that the party had already collected 133,000 signatures on a previous petition that did not meet the criteria of the National Assembly.
"We reviewed the wording [...] So we're going to ask these hundreds of thousands of people to re-sign their petition on the National Assembly website, and we're going to invite Quebecers who don't agree with the vaccine passport to come forward as well," Samson said.
The petition, which was posted to the National Assembly website on August 12, had garnered more than 75,000 signatures at the time this article was published.