'Stay out of it,' Bloc Quebecois tell Liberal MPs who attended Bill 96 protest

Members of the Bloc Quebecois said it was "unacceptable" that a "large contingent" of MPs from the Liberal Party went to Montreal to demonstrate against Bill 96 on Saturday.

"As a provocation in Quebec's jurisdiction, we can't imagine anything worse than that," said Bloc Québécois House Leader Alain Therrien at a press scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons on Monday.

By their very presence, Liberal MPs sent the message that "there is no problem with French in Quebec, [that] the protection of French is perhaps even exaggerated," he said.

"Don't get involved in this," Therrien added.

The National Assembly is expected to pass Bill 96 by the end of the parliamentary session. It aims to impose tighter language restrictions on workplaces and municipalities by limiting the use of English in courts and public services and strengthening the search and seizure powers of the Office de la langue française, among other measures.

It also introduces an enrolment cap for English-language CEGEPs, and students will be required to take more courses in French.

According to the Bloc, the presence of Liberal MPs at the demonstration is further proof that the Trudeau government is talking out of both sides of its mouth, saying it’s in favour of defending French in Quebec, while its MPs also take part in a demonstration that goes "clearly in a direction of the pure and simple anglicization of Quebec," the party said.

For the Conservative vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Joël Godin, the Liberals "are in dissent and are not being consistent."

Intercepted as he entered Parliament, Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather, who took part in the demonstration, said that "we are all here to promote French across Canada."

But, he said, “the English-speaking minority is not responsible for threats to French... the English-speaking minority in Quebec also has the right to have its historical rights respected."

NOT UNANIMOUS CONSENT

In response to the protest attendance, the Bloc introduced a motion Monday asking the House of Commons to “reiterate that Quebec is the sole architect of its language policy" and to ask the federal government not to impede or restrict the application of Quebec's Charter of the French Language in any way.

The MP for Longueuil--Saint-Hubert, Denis Trudel, claimed that there had been consultation among the political parties and that the Speaker would find there would be "unanimous consent" for the motion in the House.

But a few seconds after he spoke, the vice-president of the Chamber stood and interrupted him.

"I can already hear the 'no's," said Chris d'Entremont. "So the consultation is not finished.”

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The tone got heated during the meeting as MPs argued whether they had obtained unanimous consent.

“There is abuse of unanimous consent motions in this House of Commons," said d'Entremont, who was warmly applauded.

“I implore every member of this House to use statements by members to make their point rather than using unanimous consent motions as they are being used now... I hope they are used for what they are intended: to get the unanimous consent of this House.”

Bloc members also have a problem with Bill C-13, which would modernize the Official Languages Act and allow employees and customers of federally regulated businesses to choose the language in which they wish to work or be served.

But Ottawa is "encroaching" on the province's jurisdiction, while French is "no laughing matter" in Quebec, said Therrien.

“The language is in danger. It is absolutely necessary that we protect it and that we let the Quebec government work in that sense," he said.

Therrien again suggested that everyone “mind your own business.”

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 16, 2022.

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