Promoting English in Quebec touchy

Special to the Gazette

MONTREAL – The federal government’s announcement of a $1.1-billion plan to promote bilingualism across the country comes at a time when language has re-emerged as a political football in Quebec.

Five years ago, the Tories approved an identical plan that would pour millions into supporting English educational programs in Quebec and French programs in the rest of Canada without much fanfare. But experts say things may be different with a PQ government at the helm in Quebec.

“I think you have people within the PQ who prioritize the protection of French over bilingualism, so it’s possible they would want to repatriate those funds toward another cause if they could,” said Antonia Maioni, who teaches political science at McGill University. “Any initiative on the part of the federal government is a positive one in that it’s fulfilling its mandate to support language minorities across the country. But, on the more specifics of how this plays out in Quebec, language has a different meaning, a different political context. We have our own language laws and they’re not necessarily dedicated toward revitalizing minority languages. From the PQ’s perspective, we have Ottawa entering an area in which the provincial government feels it has no jurisdiction.”

During the PQ’s short time in office, language politics have dominated headlines in local and national media. The “Pastagate” scandal – in which an apparently overzealous agent from Quebec’s language police chided a Montreal restaurant for having the word “pasta” on its menu – became a lightning rod for critics of the PQ’s language policies.

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