A number of resolutions have been tabled by West Island municipal councils demanding their respective jurisdictions retain official bilingual status under Quebec’s French-language charter, with one standing out from the rest.
Pierrefonds-Roxboro, the sole Montreal borough that has official bilingual status under the charter, adopted a resolution last week to reaffirm its wish to retain this recognition.
The borough’s resolution and similar ones being tabled by the 15 demerged Montreal suburbs are in response to Bill 14, a proposed amendment to the French-language charter that would introduce new restrictions on keeping official bilingual status.
After an initial outcry last month, the proposed bill was softened, so a municipality’s status could not be revoked unilaterally by the province – a town would have to request the change. As well, the measuring stick for bilingual status would be that 40 per cent, not 50 per cent, of a town’s population has English as a mother tongue. Bill 14 is now facing consultations and committee hearings.
“It’s something that I take very much to heart. We have a population that has to be reassured,” borough Mayor Monique Worth said of the bilingual status resolution. “We have had this status for years and never had a problem. We respect one another.”
Worth said the resolution sends a message to Quebec that Pierrefonds-Roxboro, regardless of any potential population fluctuations, is vigorously opposed to any changes that would strip its acquired rights to have official bilingual status. “We’ll see where that’s going to go,” she added.
According to census figures compiled by Montreal, about 33 per cent of Pierrefonds-Roxboro residents are listed as having English as a mother tongue, 30 per cent have French and 37 per cent are other (non-official language). However, about 50 per cent of the borough’s population speaks English, compared with 37 per cent French and 11 per cent for both when only taking into consideration Canada’s official languages.
West Island municipalities whose English mother tongue population is hovering just over 40 per cent, based on 2011 statistics, include Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Dorval (44 per cent) and Kirkland (45 per cent). Baie-d’Urfé and Beaconsfield are at 56 per cent, Pointe-Claire at 55 per cent and Senneville at 50 per cent.
In Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, by comparison, which doesn’t have official bilingual status, 44 per cent of the population has English as a mother tongue, 39 per cent French and 17 per cent other.
Pierrefonds-Roxboro, plus several West Island cities that have bilingual status, can correspond with their residents using English, including issuing bilingual tax bills.
West Island municipalities, such as Dorval, Kirkland and Pointe-Claire, have already adopted resolutions to retain bilingual status rights, while Beaconsfield council is set to adopt one next Monday.
Beaconsfield Mayor David Pollock said the province should have much greater priorities to deal with than the bilingual status of about 80 municipalities.
“We have language harmony now,” he said. “Why make it more restrictive?”
Dorval Mayor Edgar Rou-leau said his city prides itself on its bilingualism.
“Everything with us is bilingual and we are proud of that and we want to maintain that, too,” he said. “We don’t want to lose (our official status). We have to serve about 50 per cent of our population who are English-speaking. Most of those people are bilingual anyway, but the thing is to be polite.”
Municipalities that don’t have official bilingual status are restricted by law to only use French on official documentation.
For instance, last month St-Lazare municipal authorities acquiesced to comply with directives issued by the Office québécois de la langue française, which had followed up on an anonymous complaint made early in 2012. The town said staff will begin to apply its new language guidelines to respect the language charter as of March, adding the transition will be completed by next year.