“What’s the most disturbing is this is publicly signed by the government of Quebec, not the Coalition Avenir Québec, although it’s clearly political.”

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English-language advocacy groups and some pundits reacted with dismay and consternation to a full-page advertisement taken out by the Quebec government in the Montreal Gazette Tuesday defending its recently passed Bill 96 legislation.

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The advertisement, titled Bill 96: The Facts, says it aims to counter several “falsehoods (that) have circulated on the legislation’s impact on the English speaking communities.” It states English-speaking citizens will continue to have access “in the same way to health services in their language,” and will continue to benefit from a quality English-language school system “at a level unequaled among French-speaking minorities elsewhere in Canada. .” The legislation also ensures access to justice and the rights of Indigenous groups, reads the ad on Page A5 of the Tuesday Gazette.

While one legal expert saw it as a sign the government of Premier François Legault cares enough for the English community to try to “counter misinformation,” the Quebec Community Groups Network, which links English organizations across the province, saw it very differently.

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“Just take a look at all the people, learned, credible individuals, who have addressed each of those issues,” said QCGN treasurer Eva Ludvig. “Robert Leckey (dean of McGill University’s faculty of law) spoke about justice, Eric Maldoff (a former adviser to former prime minister Jean Chrétien) about health and social services, Julius Gray on human-rights issues, and the director-generals of the CEGEPs on education. All the concerns that have come with this legislation have been very clearly outlined.

“And this full-page ad… doesn’t respond to any of these points. We are really in the domain of alternative facts.”

Heightened criticism of the bill, particularly in the French media, probably spurred the government’s choice to place the advertisement, Ludvig said.

“What’s the most disturbing is this is publicly signed by the government of Quebec, not the Coalition Avenir Québec, although it’s clearly political,” she said. “And it clearly undermines the public trust in the government itself.”

Jennifer Maccarone, Liberal MNA for Westmount-St-Louis, tweeted: “#Bill96 The Facts: The gvt must apply the notwithstanding clause to implement. It impacts healthcare, access to justice, education, first nations, immigrants, anglophones. It will negatively impact our economy & will not accomplish its goal of protecting French. #falseadvertising”

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Stéphane Beaulac, a professor at the Université de Montréal’s faculty of law specializing in language legislation and a lawyer at Dentons law firm, said the ad struck him as a sign of respect for the English community.

“My first reaction was to be pleased by the move at a certain level, because to me it means they care,” he said. “I think the CAQ government were a bit ticked off the way it was being covered in the English-speaking media in Canada, (with columnists) insisting on things that had been demonstrated as unfounded. One of them was that it was going to affect services provided in English in Montreal when it comes to health services.

“They could have thrown in the towel and said ‘to heck with them.’ But they cared enough to take out a full-page ad to try to explain. There is no better way to counter misinformation than to give information. Or at least the way that they spin it. Because of course there’s some spin.”

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If there are any legal issues with the bill, they will eventually be settled in a court of law, as has happened in the past, Beaulac said.

Thomas Mulcair, former head of the NDP party and a political commentator, questioned the principle of the government using taxpayers’ money for the advertisement.

“If Premier Legault wants to use the CAQ party money to make a political argument, that’s what political parties are for,” he said on CJAD radio. “But here, disguised as an objective iteration of what’s in Bill 96, they’re using taxpayer money for purely partisan and political purposes. I think they’re very close to crossing a line.”

He accused the government of placing the ad “to make essentially what Legault … called ‘disinformation.’ ” The advertisement’s assertion that “English-speaking citizens will continue to have access in the same way to health services in their language,” for instance, has been challenged by a coalition of hundreds of health-care workers and the College of Physicians, who warn Bill 96 will play havoc with the system, Mulcair noted.

The fact that the English-speaking communities benefit from strong educational institutions that it has historically built up and maintained is true, Mulcair said.

“To use that as a blanket statement is kind of like hitting you in the face with a flounder,” he said. “Instead of just talking about the facts, what’s in Bill 96, let’s just have this sledgehammer argument and ‘by the way you’re well treated so stop whining.’ ”

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