By Ruby Pratka
Local Journalism Initiative
On April 26, federal Minister of Official Languages Ginette Petitpas Taylor unveiled a five-year, $4.1-billion action plan for the promotion and protection of official languages in Canada, entitled Action Plan for Official Languages 2023–2028: Protection-Promotion-Collaboration. The plan includes $1.4 billion in new funding and $137.5 million in support for the Quebec English-speaking community.
Measures specific to English-speaking Quebecers include $6.5 million over five years to support the training and integration of bilingual health personnel including “by offering integration grants to English-speaking health graduates, in order to provide these communities with better access to health services in the official language of their choice,” $2.5 million over five years to “develop a new action component in support of Quebec’s English-speaking communities, one that will create more opportunities to bring the English- and French-speaking communities closer together within the arts, culture and heritage sector through promotion and interpretation of the culture, identity, heritage and history of Quebec’s English-speaking communities,” $11.3 million for the Access to Justice in Both Official Languages Support Fund and unspecified investments in employment and second-language training.
Advocates for English-speaking communities in Quebec welcomed the investments but raised concerns about the plan in light of Bill C-13, the government’s controversial overhaul of the Official Languages Act, and remarks by Taylor that French is “the only official language in danger in Canada.”
“This action plan follows a consultation that [Petitpas Taylor] did with our community, and she identified employment, arts and culture and second language training as major concerns…and the portion going to the English-speaking community of Quebec will address those issues,” commented Quebec Community Groups Network President Eva Ludvig. “We are pleased with the action plan as it was presented … but our major concern is Bill C-13, which will incorporate the [Quebec] Charter of the French Language into the [federal] Official Languages Act. That represents a tacit approval of the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause, and we worry about the future impact of that in terms of the federal government’s observations toward English-speaking Quebecers.”
Vanessa Herrick is the executive director of the English Language Arts Network (ELAN), an organization which supports English-language arts and culture around the province. “It was great to see a line item in the action plan about English-language arts, culture and heritage in Quebec. We don't have all the details yet on where it will be allocated but I hope it will go to supporting functional infrastructures for English-speaking artists looking to build bridges with the French-speaking community.”
Herrick said she understands that “English as a language is not under threat in North America, and French is.” However, she said the community’s “ability to practice art and express our culture freely” was vulnerable: “The funding is protecting our right to exist as a culture and as a community, not the language in itself.”
Cowansville native Colin Standish is the founder of the Canadian Party of Quebec and the cofounder of the Task Force on Linguistic Duality. He said Bill C-13 and the action plan both reflect a certain “asymmetry” in the federal government’s view of official languages, and a misconception of English-speaking Quebecers as a privileged group. “It’s great to have funding [earmarked for the English-speaking community] but it doesn’t do very much,” he said. “English speakers are not all Westmount elites … they face more poverty than francophones. We need to see the English-speaking community as in need of assistance and affirmative action-style programs.”
Quebec minister responsible for the French language Jean-François Roberge has said federal funding earmarked for the English-speaking community should be invested in French language training. “Obviously, being bilingual is good, but [Roberge’s comments] were absurd and offensive on so many levels,” said Standish. “The English-speaking community should have a say in how this money is spent … but Roberge is saying it should be used for assimilation.”
“Improving [anglophones’] knowledge of French is an important element of the plan, but it’s up to the communities to decide what specific needs they have,” said Ludwig.
A representative of Roberge’s office told the BCN the minister would not comment further until after a planned meeting with Petitpas Taylor. Calls to the office of Éric Girard, the minister responsible for relations for English-speaking Quebecers, were not returned.