Robert Libman: Don’t count on 2024 to bring a respite for English speakers

If the PQ remains solid, François Legault will continue his attack on English to flank his rivals. If his poll numbers go up, he will believe his measures have worked.

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Prime Minister François Legault regretted that 2023 “was not an easy year.” How humble of him.

Generally, it refers to Jean-Talon’s election defeat last fall, along with his declining poll numbers. However, few people are shedding tears of empathy, particularly anglophone Quebecers, for whom 2023 was much worse, largely due to the Legault government’s targeted attacks on the community.

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At the end of 2022 I highlighted what a terrible year it had been for the English-speaking community, mainly due to Bill 96. I didn’t imagine 2023 could get worse, but it did. Not only have the screws been tightened at every opportunity with the implementation of the recently tightened language law, but our federal government also threw the community under the bus with Bill C-13, the renewal of the Language Law Officials of Canada, which incorporates Bill 96 into Federal law. Then, of course, the ambush at the end of the year with the tuition fiasco at English universities.

So in 2024, is there any hope for an eventual respite from this political blitzkrieg? Will Legault’s recent humiliation by the polls change things, a potential cause for any backsliding or softening?

Do not count on it.

Although it was somewhat satisfying for many Anglos to see Legault writhe in horror when the Parti Québécois, his former party, recently outperformed his Coalition Avenir Québec in the polls, the PQ pressured the government to be even tougher on the language. Furthermore, Legault’s numbers can be expected to gradually rise again.

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The rise of the PQ is a byproduct of Quebecers’ willingness to send a message to Legault. As 2024 progresses, its rise will likely slow as Quebecers begin to consider the match more seriously. They’re a small opposition group with few solutions to real problems, and while their leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon has acquitted himself well, he doesn’t exude the commander-in-chief vibe that a movement like theirs needs to expand. its base far beyond its stagnant ideology.

The Legault government’s difficulties in 2023 were both circumstantial and self-inflicted. Governments are struggling with many challenges caused by external factors: inflation, healthcare complexity, climate-related issues, etc. Legault’s flip-flops on Quebec City’s Third Tunnel project saw him humorously skewered by the annual Bye Bye year-end ad. Satirical television program. Additionally, raising MNA salaries while negotiations were underway with the public sector and scoring into the CAQ’s own net, so to speak, with up to $7 million spent on two exhibition games with the LA Kings certainly made matters worse. But those bruises will likely fade amid the bigger picture.

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When labor negotiations end, the CAQ could get a boost in the polls. The next election is almost three years away and an economic recovery is likely before then, so the polls will likely swing many times.

The Anglos are trapped either way. If the PQ remains solid, Legault will continue his attack on English to outflank his nationalist rivals. If his poll numbers rise again, he will believe his measures have worked.

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The only hope for the English-speaking community in 2024 will be the courts. Cases related to Bill 96 and educational rights protected by the Constitution, and debates over the preventive use of the notwithstanding clause, are pending. Rulings issued by French-speaking judges have impact, as was the case when the Quebec Superior Court criticized the Legault government over Bill 40 on English school boards.

There was some opposition in Francophone circles to the tuition fee increases, but it has not been sustained. The traditionally passive Anglophone community must fight for its own rights. McGill, Concordia, and even CEGEPs should, like school boards and others, vigorously challenge the recent actions, including seeking injunctive relief. Court cases may also force the federal government to wake up.

While Legault’s political wounds may heal, the ones he is inflicting on the Anglophone community will be permanent if we do not fight fire with fire.

Robert Libman is an architect and planning consultant who has served as an Equality Party leader and MNA, as mayor of Côte-St-Luc, and as a member of Montreal’s executive committee. He was a Conservative candidate in the 2015 federal election.

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