What is the Québec government's latest language law, Bill 96, and why will it mean international companies may stop supplying goods to Quebec?

Québecois politicians are concerned about the decline in use of the French language

The government in the French-speaking Canadian province of Québec is to implement amendments to a bill which critics have warned could stop international firms from supplying goods and result in a drop in modern language teaching in some higher education institutions.

But what is Bill 96 and what does the government hope to achieve with it?

What is Bill 96?

Businesses operating in the French speaking Canadian province of Québec will be affected by the Bill amendments.Businesses operating in the French speaking Canadian province of Québec will be affected by the Bill amendments.
Businesses operating in the French speaking Canadian province of Québec will be affected by the Bill amendments.
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Passed over a year ago, the Bill is already beginning to come into effect in some areas, while draft regulations of amendments have been published in others.

An amendment to the Charter of the French Language and the first major update to that law since 1977, it aims to promote the use of the French language in the province and “affirm that French is the common language of the Québec nation”.

What areas of daily life will be affected by the latest amendments to the Bill?

Business will be most affected. The law now requires employment documentation, job postings, and official written communication with employees to be conducted in French. This doesn’t change if the business is an international company, if it is operating in Québec.

Education will also be affected. English language CEGEPs, which offer pre-university courses, will have limits set on the total number of students they can enrol. Meanwhile, their students will be mandated to take five courses in French, which means there will be little room for any courses that cannot be taught in French such as foreign-language classes. Some CEGEPs have warned they will be forced to severely cut back their offerings in teaching languages such as German, Spanish or Hebrew.

Some companies which currently import goods to Québec from other countries, including neighbouring US, have said they may cut back on the products they can import to the Québec market.

Etienne Sanz de Acedo, chief executive of the International Trademark Association, warned the costs and inconveniences around the application of draft regulations could push certain manufacturers out of the Québec market.

He said international products which have an English word printed on them through plastic moulding, such as labelling on a washing machine drawer, would not be able to be sold in Québec without costly modifications.

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“If a manufacturer has to change its manufacturing method exclusively for the Québec market, that would entail considerable costs for a company,” he said.

One part of the draft regulations said businesses with storefronts in Québec have until June next year to ensure French occupies a space on signage that is “twice as large” as another language.

Meanwhile, all businesses and organisations operating in Québec will have to ensure that they have a website which is available in French.

Why has the Québec Government chosen to do this?

Currently led by a party promoting devolution, rather than full independence, the Coalition Avenir de Québec, the provincial government wants to stop the decline of the French language in the province. A mixture of increased immigration of people who do not speak French as a first language, coupled with a tendency for young Francophones to consume popular culture in English due to the internet, has left politicians worried that French could eventually die out.

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