Jules Bastien’s eyes light up when he talks about his son, a trilingual English teacher in Montreal.
Bastien, 81, returned to his native region of Mauricie in 2003 after a 43-year career as a machine operator in Montreal.
Over the years, he says he’s noticed a drop in the number of people using French in public spaces in Montreal since he moved there in 1961.
But he also noticed that people in the Mauricie region, where 97% of the population has French as their mother tongue, speak more and more more than French, which impresses him.
“My son came here two weeks ago and he was speaking Spanish here in Louiseville with someone at Tim Hortons,” Bastien said, looking amazed.
“He was so happy because he loves speaking other languages.”
The Quebec government’s overhaul of the Charter of the French Language, Bill 96, received royal assent on June 1 and many of its clauses now officially apply province-wide.
The updated law is far-reaching and several parts of it have been controversial and divisive, including for calling on immigrants to learn French within six months. It has also been criticized by First Nations communities since Indigenous peoples are not exempt from any part of the law.
When the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government introduced the bill, most opposition parties in the National Assembly agreed that the province could benefit from additional measures to protect French in a North America that is globalizing.
But his widespread use of the notwithstanding clause, which overrides the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, worries lawyers and professionals in municipalities, courts and civil services supposed to apply the law.
The details of omnibus laws like Bill 96 are often lost on the general public. In Louiseville and Maskinongé, two neighboring municipalities in the Mauricie region, many of the people CBC spoke to were unfamiliar with the law, but those who did said they support it and the cause of protection. French in Quebec.
Their region is in desperate need of labor due to a severe labor shortage.
Micheline Rabouin, who has lived in Louiseville for about 30 years, said while she supports the law, she believes six months is too short to learn the language.
“When I was living [in the Maritimes]it took me a while to learn English,” she said. “I would say at least a year.
Popularity of the CAQ in Mauricie
The four MPs representing the electoral districts of the Mauricie are all part of the CAQ, the party in power that tabled the bill. Before the party rose to prominence under the current premier, François Legault, voters in the region voted primarily for the Parti Québécois and sometimes for the Liberal Party of Quebec.
Bastien, the former machinist, says he is more “nationalist than federalist”, but that he voted for “all parties”. He said that while French was important to him, it was not necessarily a problem at the polls.
François Rousseau, 70, plans to vote again for the CAQ in the next election. Throughout his life, Rousseau said he voted for a variety of parties in federal and provincial elections, including the NDP, Bloc Québécois, and the defunct Social Credit Party, but never Liberal.
Why not? “Multiculturalism”, said Rousseau.
Canadian policy dating back to former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the 1970s has been heavily contested in Quebec due to fears that it would lead to increased bilingualism and a decline in the use of French.
The province has since favored policies aimed at integrating newcomers into Quebec society, a distinction that could be due to the idea of collective identity versus individual identity, according to Daniel Béland, director of the Institute of Canadian Studies of McGill.
“There’s a sense that there’s a majority culture and that’s important in how minorities are treated,” Béland said in a recent interview.
The Charter of the French Language, known as Bill 101, was passed in 1977, six years after Trudeau’s multicultural policy. It makes French the common language in Quebec and stipulates that the children of newcomers must be educated in French.
Rousseau, a resident of Maskinongé, says Bill 96 is necessary given the increase in immigration to his area.
Rousseau said he believes the CAQ is so popular there because it has managed to tap into nationalist sentiments while leaving separatism aside.
“People can’t say, ‘Oh, I won’t vote for them because they’re separatists,'” Rousseau said.
Daniel St-Yves is also 70 years old and also voted for the CAQ, despite having voted for the PQ in the past. A trucker most of his life, St-Yves said he was happily retired after “eating off the pavement” for 40 years.
He traveled through Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick throughout his career, covering 100,000 kilometers a year.
“When I go somewhere else, I have to speak English. When you come here, speak to me in French,” St-Yves said, stressing that he was in favor of additional “pressure” on people to learn the language. French in the province.
“I’m not against immigration, but when you come here, you have to adapt to Quebec.”
The latest census data suggests that newcomers are learning French more than ever.
Between 1976 and 2015, the percentage of students schooled in French whose mother tongue is not French rose from 20% to 90%.
Labor shortage, the road to modernization?
With a shortage of more than 200,000 workers affecting businesses across the province, the Mauricie’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors are looking for ways to modernize, according to Renée Cloutier of the local chamber of commerce.
Some associate themselves with psychological support organizations for workers as well as with Welcoming service for newcomers to Trois-Rivièreswhich helps immigrants settle in the region and works to “promote harmonious intercultural relations between Quebecers of all origins,” according to its website.
“There is a labor shortage and several businesses on our territory are showing creativity to attract workers,” said Pier-Olivier Gagnon, who works for the municipality of Maskinongé.
Gagnon and Cloutier say the companies hope their methods will help revitalize area industries, which are vital to the province’s economy.