Balarama Holness Says He’ll Officially Recognize Montreal As A Bilingual City If Elected

"Montreal is bilingual and multicultural and it is something that we should embrace," he said.

Contributing Writer
Balarama Holness Says He’ll Officially Recognize Montreal As A Bilingual Metropolis If Elected Mayor

Activist and Grey Cup-winning Alouette Balarama Holness is saying he'll officially recognize Montreal as a bilingual city if elected mayor in November.

"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."

His party's platform on inclusive language rights is also calling for the translation of all municipal communications into both English and French and softer language laws for private industry in the city.

"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."

Ezra Black
Contributing Writer