Bill 96 officially became law in Quebec on June 1st, but businesses fear that the act will hinder the recruitment of needed laborers. Intending to strengthen the French language in the province, the bill creates harsh limits on access to services in the English language, as well as altered language requirements for small businesses and CEGEP students. Specifically, new immigrants will only be able to utilize public services in English for six months before having to transition to French. Many community groups and professionals in Quebec have voiced concern regarding Bill 96 over the past few months. Most recently, over 30 tech executives signed a letter to Premier François Legault warning that the new stricter rules will hurt the economy.
After the law initially passed, Premier Legault told the press that he wanted to focus on immigrants coming into Quebec who already spoke French and that he intended to make the issue a key point in his campaign for the upcoming October 3rd election. Moreover, the Coalition Avenir Québec party (CAQ) is aiming to protect the French language, as Legault says it has become vulnerable in North America. Veronique Proulx, a leader in the Quebec export and manufacturing sectors, commented, “We’re not saying that French isn’t important. But it does become a limiting factor when we’re looking to attract the best people and talent that we need.”
While the desire to protect the French language is not itself an issue, Bill 96 is concerning when looking at the future of Quebec’s economy. As the letter to Premier Legault from tech executives highlights, having Bill 96 in place before any implementation of language-education support “has a direct impact on the competitiveness and attractiveness of Quebec’s most critical sectors and most promising companies.” If the requirement to become proficient in French deters people from moving to the province, businesses will only continue their struggle to fill open positions. Additionally, with the demand to learn French within months of arriving, it will inevitably be difficult for immigrants to ensure their basic needs and rights are being met. Celebrating and promoting the French language is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of businesses’ and immigrants’ ultimate well-being in the province.
Furthermore, if the government wants to prioritize the French language, sufficient educational support and resources need to be created for those new to the language. CBC News recently acquired a study meant to be concealed by the Immigration Ministry — revealing that many incomers would need over six months to realistically be able to learn a new language. The study was called for in 2019 and completed in 2021, just before the initial presentation of Bill 96. Thus, the information found in the study was evidently disregarded.
Quebec currently has the second-highest job vacancy rate among the Canadian provinces but is the only province that has the ability to control economic immigration. Before Bill 96, the French language requirements were only applicable to businesses with staff over 50 but will now be relevant to any company with over 25 employees. Currently, Quebec is attempting to fill open the many 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, Technosub Chief Executive, said in an interview with Reuters, “The dream is to have well-trained workers who are French-speaking, but that’s not always realistic.” If Premier Legault and his party are so passionate about spreading French, it is necessary to create sufficient resources to support those learning. Otherwise, both immigrants and businesses will suffer.