The city of Montreal is supporting Pierrefonds-Roxboro in its battle to retain its bilingual status, the first sign that the province’s largest city opposes the elements of the Quebec government’s Bill 14 that propose stripping municipalities of that recognition.
In a letter to city councillor Marvin Rotrand, who spearheaded the campaign to have the city support Pierrefonds-Roxboro, the president of the city’s executive committee confirmed the city backs the borough’s opposition to Bill 14. Pierrefonds-Roxboro is the only one of the city’s 19 boroughs that has bilingual status. Several other Montreal-area municipalities and the majority of the demerged municipalities on the island have bilingual status.
Executive committee president Laurent Blanchard explained that Montreal is a member of the Union of Quebec Municipalities, and that on Feb. 15 the union adopted and tabled a motion in which it demanded “the maintenance of the status quo for municipalities and boroughs that have bilingual status.”
In addition, Blanchard noted, the union “asks that all decisions concerning the recognition of a municipal organization cannot be taken without a resolution having been adopted by the municipality or borough concerned, in the respect of municipal autonomy.”
“This is why I can tell you that the city of Montreal, as member of the Union of Quebec Municipalities, is in favour of the position taken by (Pierrefonds-Roxboro),” Blanchard wrote.
“I think the letter is perfect,” Rotrand said Monday at city hall. “It shows the city is 100-per-cent behind the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro and the city supports the Union of Quebec Municipalities’ decision that all 89 Quebec municipalities and boroughs that have bilingual status should conserve that status.”
Rotrand said he was surprised the city took as long as it did to declare its support, but said with the new coalition ruling Montreal no longer dominated by Union Montreal, which had federalist sensibilities, it might have been viewed as a more contentious subject that could open a Pandora’s box of issues regarding language sensibilities.
Asked whether the city’s letter was an indication Montreal is opposed to elements of Bill 14 regarding the bilingual status of municipalities, Mayor Michael Applebaum said: “Rather than saying we are against, we will say we are in favour of maintaining the status quo.”
It would be difficult for the Quebec government to ignore the wishes of its province’s union of municipalities as well as Montreal and Longueuil, Rotrand said, to maintain a right that dates back to 1977.
“I don’t know what will happen with Bill 14, but I believe this aspect of Bill 14 will be significantly changed. I think the battle has been won today.”
In January, the borough council of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, population 68,600, unanimously passed a resolution opposing the aspects of Bill 14 that would strip it of its bilingual status and its right to use both official languages on signs and services offered on its website and in written communications with its citizens.
“The population of Pierrefonds-Roxboro has been used to living together and we never had any problems with communications,” said borough mayor Monique Worth.
Under Bill 14, the Parti Québécois government’s proposed law to strengthen the French Charter, the provincial government could revoke a municipality’s bilingual status if the number of residents who list English as their mother tongue falls below 50 per cent of the population. At present, only 31 per cent of Pierrefonds-Roxboro citizens list English as their first language. The rest have French (28 per cent) or another language (35 per cent).
Last week, the municipality of Longueuil passed a similar resolution supporting its borough of Greenfield Park’s right to retain its bilingual status. Rotrand was asking for a similar motion. He sent a letter in early February to the executive committee suggesting it support the borough publicly by having the city council adopt a declaration of support. When he didn’t receive a response, he said he would be introducing an emergency motion at Monday’s city council meeting accompanied by councillors Monique Worth and Frantz Benjamin to ask the city to support Pierrefonds-Roxboro in its fight. With Blanchard’s letter, the motion is no longer necessary, he said.
In its resolution, Pierrefonds-Roxboro states it wishes to retain its bilingual status irrespective of fluctuations in census numbers because it is “fundamental to the character of the borough and as a testament of the historical presence of both the English-and French-speaking communities in the borough.”
The borough “vigorously opposes” any legislation that allows a municipality or a borough’s bilingual status to be removed, the resolution reads.