Montreal’s suburban mayors have joined forces to lobby the provincial government for a wide-ranging guarantee that would see the grandfathering of their existing municipal entitlements to bilingual status and subsequent right to offer English-language services.
Bill 14, the newly proposed amendment to Quebec’s French language charter, would introduce new restrictions on a municipality’s right to keep its official bilingual status — which, in turn, would jeopardize English-language services in several West Island municipalities.
The Association of Suburban Mayors, an organization representing Montreal’s 15 demerged suburbs, is calling on the provincial government to recognize the individual rights of municipalities to keep their bilingual status. They want to see the rights that were granted to municipalities in 1977, when Bill 101 was initially adopted, remain in effect indefinitely.
Bill 14 would give the provincial government the power to unilaterally revoke a city or town’s bilingual status if a census indicates that less than 50 per cent of its population speaks English as a mother tongue. Under current rules, a municipality’s bilingual status can’t be taken away unless a city’s council votes to do so.
“You can’t build a community when every 10 years you pull the linguistic rug from under people,” Peter Trent, the mayor of Westmount and the association’s president, said Monday.
“We are simply saying we should have vested rights.”
Trent said 11 suburban mayors, including Pointe-Claire’s Bill McMurchie, Baie-d’Urfé’s Maria Tutino and Dollard-des-Ormeaux’s Ed Janiszewski, met last Thursday. Monique Worth, the mayor of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, has also joined the association for the campaign.
With a population breakdown of 32 per cent English mother tongue, 30 per cent French mother tongue and 37 per cent other, Pierrefonds-Roxboro — the only one of 19 city of Montreal boroughs with bilingual status — could lose that status if Bill 14 is adopted as is, explained Johanne Palladini, a borough spokeswoman.
“We want to make sure our voices are heard,” Trent said.
He said Montreal Island municipalities that have bilingual status will be adopting municipal council resolutions opposing Bill 14, and the association will present a brief when Bill 14 comes up for consultations and committee hearings in the new year.
On Monday night, Pointe-Claire city council passed its resolution, becoming one of the first to register its opposition to Bill 14. “We are categorically opposed to any reduction of bilingual status,” McMurchie said.
Although Quebec’s minister responsible for the anglophone community, Jean-François Lisée, indicated late last week that the deciding number may be 40 per cent, not 50 per cent, and it may not be automatic, the proposed law has concerned many and heightened language tensions.
In the 2011 census, less than 50 per cent of the population in Dorval, Kirkland, Senneville and Dollard declared English as their mother tongue — and in Baie-d’Urfé, Beaconsfield and Pointe-Claire, the English mother-tongue population was not far above 50 per cent.
“Since this has come out, at every event I have been at, people have come up to me to say that we have to fight this,” Tutino said.
In Baie-d’Urfé, she said, the level of bilingualism went up from 70 per cent in the 2006 census to 74 per cent in the 2011 census.
“People live and work harmoniously in both languages.”
“It really is disappointing,” Janiszewski said.
Dorval Mayor Edgar Rouleau noted that granting bilingual status on the basis of the population that declares itself to be English-mother tongue, as opposed to other than French-mother tongue, provides a skewed language picture.
Allophones make up between eight and 10 per cent of Dorval’s population of 19,000 and, more often than not, they request services from the city in English, Rouleau said.