In his speech to the French Academy in Paris on Thursday, Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette presented the challenges facing the French language in Quebec, and the policy levers used by the government to deal with them.
Nearly 50 years after the first adoption of the Charter of the French language, “we are continuing the tradition of a Quebec determined to develop entirely in French”, declared the Minister of the French Language before the academicians.
The Minister’s speech was indeed very tradition- and history-oriented. Before presenting the “interest and importance” of the Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French, better known as Bill 96, Mr. Jolin-Barrette made a long sketch of the history of Quebec. He thus wanted to indicate to the academicians that the French language has always been an “engine of resistance and rebirth” for the people of Quebec.
Indeed, throughout the history of Quebec, the French language has been a vector of emancipation, argued the Minister. Placed under the sign of Samuel de Champlain’s dream of creating “a new world of freedom and tolerance” in America, the history of the people of Quebec is that of a people who have always resisted adversity.
Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted in particular on specific moments in our history, such as the conquest by the English in 1760, and the struggle led by the patriots in the 19th century.
After the conquest, he said, “everything indicated that we had to disappear […]but that’s not what happened”, thanks to the demographic explosion of Francophones.
As for the patriots, they wanted “to give French Canadians back control of their political institutions”, recalled the minister, before adding that “although they had been slowed down in their momentum for emancipation, the patriots brought to light the primary role of the state in the development of a nation.
Today, the challenges facing the French language are numerous, added the minister, mentioning among other things the “steamroller” of GAFAM and the phenomenon of “anglicization of French”.
But it is multiculturalism and its defenders who are the major obstacle to the development of French and the Quebec nation, explained Minister Jolin-Barrette under the dome of the Quai de Conti.
“Although our project is thwarted by Canadian multiculturalism […]which fights the claims of Quebec to constitute itself as a distinct nation, the French language must really become the language of use of all Quebecers,” he said.
In addition, the minister deplores the media treatment of the actions of his government in the English-speaking media, which according to him unfairly criticize the law on secularism and law 96.
“Recently, defamatory articles against Quebec have been published with too much complacency in American and English-Canadian newspapers.”
“Authors who are not very rigorous depict our fight from the most denigrating and most insulting angle, trying to pass it off as a rearguard fight, a form of authoritarianism”, said the minister, before present Quebec’s fight for the French language as “just and universal”.
Thus, the speech of the Minister of the French Language was a plea for the exemplarity of the State. He argued the need for a nation to equip itself with political and economic levers.
“The exemplarity of the State is fundamental, because it dictates the common reference. What message does the state send when it suggests that French is optional? wondered Simon Jolin-Barrette.
To illustrate his point, the Minister recalled the determining role played by the founding of Hydro-Québec in the affirmation of Québec as a national entity, as well as the importance that the first Charter of the French language had in his time, adopted in 1977.
But given the evolution of the situation in recent decades, the adoption of a new version of the Charter was necessary, he argued.
“The continental and global linguistic dynamic favors English in every way. This is why Bill 96 devotes a new chapter of the Charter to the common language. He reminds us that French is a language of integration, a principle of unity, and a valuable vector of participation in our democratic life.
The minister closed his speech by proposing a “renewed alliance” to France to “give new impetus” to the French language and ensure that it “transcends [les] respective weaknesses” of the two nations.