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Canada Has Released Big Plans To 'Achieve True Equality' Between French & English

Minister Mélanie Joly presented a document with the government's "visions and intentions."
Canada Has Released Big Plans To 'Achieve True Equality' Between French & English

The federal government has unveiled a new strategy to "strengthen" and "modernize" Canada's Official Languages Act over the next 50 years with the aim of further protecting the use of French across the country. 

This subject is frequently debated — something Quebecers know all too well, as provincial officials propose changes to Quebec's Charter of the French Language and Premier François Legault's government considers "limiting the number of places" in English CEGEPs. 

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What's the goal of the document?

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%.

According to Statistics Canada projections, it could drop to 3% by 2036.

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.