Couillard calls 'Bonjour-Hi' spat an embarrassment; Lisée admits to setting 'a trap'

A week after the Quebec Liberals backed a motion calling on shopkeepers to refrain from using the phrase 'Bonjour-Hi' while addressing customers, premier Philippe Couillard acknowledged that the row over the phrase has become an embarrassment — on the level of the infamous Pastagate controversy in 2013.

Back then, Quebec's language authorities visited the Buonanotte restaurant on St. Laurent Blvd., acting on a complaint over the word 'pasta' on its menu.

That controversy made headlines around the world — none of them flattering to Quebec — and led to the resignation of the OQLF's then-boss.

On Thursday, Couillard rose in the National Assembly in an attempt to reassure anglos that they should feel at home in the province, despite the flareup over this latest controversy.

"There are no different classes of Quebecers, only one class, the first class," Couillard said, in English. "And English-speaking Quebecers are first-class Quebecers like all of us are. And I also want to say and tell them, that the English language, although French is our official language, the English language is not a foreign language in Quebec."

Couillard was responding to Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée, who introduced the anti-'Bonjour-Hi' motion in the Assembly a week ago, and who asked on Thursday what the government would do to follow up on the motion.

Motion shouldn't have been voted on in first place: Lincoln

Several anglo MNAs, including Kathleen Weil, the minister in charge of relations with anglos, have fanned the controversy, suggesting the motion, which essentially affirms that French is the official and common language of Quebec, was misunderstood by an 'emotional' anglo media.

Meanwhile, former West Island MNA Clifford Lincoln weighed in on the controversy on the Leslie Roberts show on CJAD 800 Thursday.

In 1988, Lincoln was one of the anglos in the cabinet of then-premier Robert Bourassa who quit the cabinet over the government's introduction of Bill 178, which allowed English on commercial signs — as long as they weren't outdoor signs.

Back then, he said "rights are rights are rights."

When Lincoln was asked whether he would have voted in favor of the 'Bonjour-Hi' motion, he hesitated, saying as an MNA he was "caught in one these motions himself" — an acknowledgement that party politics often trump individual feelings when it comes to voting on such motions.

"[Such motions have] become very tricky," Lincoln said. "I think the only way to avoid them, which I think should have been the case here, is or the premier and the party to decide that they will not consider the motion, because it's beyond ridicule, and that there are more serious things to consider."

Meanwhile, Lisée admitted that he set a trap for the Couillard Liberals with the motion — and he and his Liberals fell into it, with the aim of testing whether they could be trusted to defend the French language.

"I set the oldest trap in the book," Lisée said. "Are you in good faith when you say that French is the common language of Quebec? I don't think that the premier is in good faith when one of the first things he did just before becoming premier, is say that every worker in a plant should have an indispensable knowledge of English."