Montreal — Almost 20 years after it was last updated, the Official Languages Act is set to be modernized by the federal government. The government’s stated objective with this updated version of the act is to achieve substantive equality of French and English in the country, not just formal equality. But a new study from Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation at the the Institute for Research on Public Policy says that, although this is a worthy goal, more is needed to bolster French in Canada.
In the study, INRS professor emeritus Mario Polèse shows how Bill C-13 — an amendment to the Official Languages Act currently moving through the legislative process — attempts to come to terms with the overall decline of French, notably outside Quebec.
While Bill C-13 formally acknowledges Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, which “provides that French is the official language of Quebec,” and recognizes that the need to ensure the security and vitality of the French language requires a particular approach, Polèse demonstrates how it should go further in pointing the way to a new vision of bilingualism. He lays out several key recommendations that would make Bill C-13 stronger – and the place of the French language in Canada more central:
“Ultimately, C-13 falls short,” says Polèse. “The bill could have gone further in pointing the way to a new vision of bilingualism: a Canada with two languages, each with the right to secure spaces, while remaining true to the founding ideal of two languages respected across the nation.”
If this goal is to be achieved, the provinces will have to play a role. Two important policy tools for ensuring the future of French — education and language of work — are provincial responsibilities. The effective implementation of Regions with a Strong Francophone Presence, for instance, will be largely dependent on the goodwill of the provinces.
Polèse admits that “C-13 probably goes as far as is politically feasible.” But if it succeeds in changing Quebecers’ view of Ottawa to that of an ally in the battle for language security, it will have fulfilled an important objective, he concludes.
Amending the Official Languages Act: A New Vision of Bilingualism? can be downloaded from the website of the IRPP’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation (centre.irpp.org).
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