Bill 96 officially came into force in Quebec on June 1, but businesses fear the law will hamper the hiring of needed workers. In an effort to strengthen the French language in the province, the bill creates severe limits on access to services in English, as well as modified language requirements for small businesses and CEGEP students. Specifically, new immigrants will only be able to use public services in English for six months before having to switch to French. Several community and professional groups in Quebec have expressed concern about Bill 96 in recent months. More recently, more than 30 tech executives signed a letter to Premier Francois Legault warning that the tougher new rules will hurt the economy.
After the law was initially passed, Premier Legault told the press that he wanted to focus on immigrants arriving in Quebec who already spoke French and that he intended to make this issue a key point in his campaign. for the next elections on October 3. Additionally, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party aims to protect the French language, as Legault says it has become vulnerable in North America. Véronique Proulx, a leader in Quebec’s export and manufacturing sectors, said, “We’re not saying French isn’t important. But that becomes a limiting factor when we seek to attract the best talent and people we need.
If the desire to protect the French language is not in itself an issue, Bill 96 is worrying when considering the future of the Quebec economy. As the letter to Prime Minister Legault from tech leaders points out, the implementation of Bill 96 before any implementation of support for language education “has a direct impact on the competitiveness and attractiveness of the most critical sectors and the most promising companies in Quebec”. If the requirement to be fluent in French deters people from settling in the province, businesses will only continue their struggle to fill vacancies. Moreover, with the demand to learn French in the months following their arrival, it will inevitably be difficult for immigrants to ensure that their basic needs and rights are met. Celebrating and promoting the French language is important, but it must not come at the expense of the ultimate well-being of businesses and immigrants in the province.
Additionally, if the government wants to prioritize the French language, sufficient educational support and resources must be created for those new to the language. CBC News recently acquired a study intended to be concealed by the Department of Immigration – revealing that many newcomers would need more than six months to be able to realistically learn a new language. The study was commissioned in 2019 and completed in 2021, just before the initial introduction of Bill 96. So the information found in the study was obviously ignored.
Quebec currently has the second highest job vacancy rate among Canadian provinces, but is the only province with the ability to control economic immigration. Prior to Bill 96, French language requirements only applied to businesses with more than 50 employees, but will now be relevant for any business with more than 25 employees. Currently, Quebec is trying to fill the many vacant positions with temporary foreign workers in low-wage jobs.
Ultimately, Bill 96 is an unpopular attempt to promote the French language and a potential threat to Quebec’s economy. As Eric Beaupre, CEO of Technosub, said in an interview with Reuters, “The dream is to have well-trained workers who speak French, but that’s not always realistic. If Premier Legault and his party are so passionate about the dissemination of French, it is necessary to create sufficient resources to support those who learn. Otherwise, immigrants and businesses will suffer.