QUEBEC — Bill 96 moved a step closer to being adopted Thursday, with MNAs voting to enter a controversial amendment that would require students in English CEGEPs to either take three courses in French or increase their French second-language classes from two to five.
In the vote taken in the legislature, MNAs accepted a block of Coalition Avenir Québec government amendments to Bill 96, including the Liberal-inspired CEGEP plan.
All the CAQ MNAs voted in favour, as did the Liberal and Québec solidaire MNAs. The six Parti Québécois MNAs abstained.
The final vote was 86 for, six abstaining.
This was not the final vote on the bill but just before lunch, rising in the legislature, the Minister Responsible for the French Language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, kicked off the final adoption process with a speech.
“This law, Mr. Speaker, is a law about Quebec pride,” Jolin-Barrette said. “Long live the French language.”
On his feet seconds later was Liberal house leader André Fortin who spoke against the bill.
“I’m against this bill because it creates two classes of Quebecers,” Fortin said. “Historic Anglophones and everybody else. I’m against this bill because it does not foster unity.”
The final vote on the 200-article bill will follow later this month. Thursday’s amendment vote does, however, enter the CEGEP formula in Bill 96.
The Liberals voted in favor of the CEGEP amendment because they hope it will be enough to patch up an error they admit they made during the clause-by-clause study of the bill, overhauling the Charter of the French Language.
But later, when it came time to vote on what is known as consideration of the report from the committee which studied the bill clause by clause, the Liberal votes against and the PQ abstained.
The vote was 68 for, 18 against, 6 abstained.
The CEGEP amendment vote ends a long saga for the Liberals. In their zeal to shore up nationalist votes, the Liberals proposed making three core courses in French compulsory for all students in the English CEGEP system. That would have been in addition to the two core French second-language courses students already take.
A backlash from minority communities ensued, and the Liberals beat a hasty retreat as they saw their traditional support plunge.
There were also warnings that many anglophone students do not have enough French proficiency to pass courses like sociology or statistics in their second language.
The party tried to correct the mistake at the committee level — proposing the option of taking either core courses in French or additional second-language classes — but the amendment failed after Jolin-Barrette, said he needed more time to study the proposal.
At the time, Jolin-Barrette noted there was still a chance to fix the problem at the next stage of the adoption process, known as consideration of the committee’s report of the clause-by-clause study. That happened Thursday.
The amendment, proposed by the government and adopted Thursday, is a carbon copy of the failed Liberal version.
It means students in English CEGEPs will have the option of three core courses in French plus their two existing French-language instruction courses, or three additional French-language instruction courses for a total of five.
The consideration stage of adoption started Wednesday evening, with speeches from all the parties, but MNAs ran out of time to vote on the amendment before evening recess.
In her speech Wednesday, party leader Dominique Anglade made it clear that the Liberals intend to oppose Bill 96 on third and final reading, which could take place the week of May 23.
“The fundamental difference between the Liberal Party and the Coalition Avenir Québec is that we don’t want to divide anglophones, francophones, those who make $56,000 and more and others, immigrants, non-immigrants,” Anglade told the house.
“The flaw in Bill 96 is that it goes too far and includes measures which have no connection to the protection of the French language and which violate the rule of law that governments have protected for decades.
“There could have been ways to work together (on protecting French). And I know there are English-speaking Quebecers who would have liked to see this in a more inclusive way, that would have liked to be part of this, but that’s not what happened.
“We are all capable of working together to make French the common language, where we stop dividing and uniting.”
In the meantime, a demonstration against Bill 96 is in the works for Saturday in Montreal.
At her morning news conference Thursday, Anglade said the Liberals will be represented at the protest.
“The message (of the protest) is clear for us: it’s Bill 96, it’s all reasons we will be voting against the bill,” she said.
Asked if she thinks the Coalition Avenir Québec government will be listening, Anglade said she had doubts.
“I don’t think the government has been doing a very good job of listening on this topic and many other topics,” Anglade said. “But we have to make our voices heard as well. We have this responsibility.”
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