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Documents in Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

Documents on the Controversy Surrounding the Language of Commercial Signs in Quebec (Bill 178) December 1988

Debates in the National Assembly
[December 20, 1988]

Robert Bourassa,
Premier Ministre du Québec
Member for Saint-Laurent [Liberal Party].


[At the beginning of his speech, Mr. Bourassa traced the history of language legislation since the days of bill 63 and of the debates surrounding them]

"On December 15 last, we received the judgement of the Supreme Court; the government and the caucus faced the same challenge. How are we to reconcile individual and collective rights? At this point we could have imperilled, to some extent, collective rights. As we all know, Quebec society is vulnerable because of its size - we are less than 2% of the population of North America - as well as because of its demographic decline. [...] Thus bilingualism could not be accepted and, in any case, bilingualism is not the programme of the Liberal Party.

"So far as I understand it, the Parti Québécois proposes, against the wishes of its founding father, the status quo. We believe that the status quo violates in an unnecessary way individual rights. I do not intend in this speech to refute the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition who claims that I am removing from francophones the right to post signs only in their language. I will have other occasions to do so with proper documentation. What I do say, and what we believe in on this side of the House, and this is part of the fundamental philosophy of the Liberal Party, is that we cannot reject indiscriminately individual rights.


"We tried to find a formula that can serve as a point of equilibrium - I prefer to talk about equilibrium because that is precisely what we are trying to do. Two fundamental values are confronted here, and when such a thing happens, a choice must be made in seeking to balance them. An inevitable arbitration must take place. Anywhere else, in North America, the arbitration would have favoured the individual rights.

"I had such an arbitration to make. I did it with great reluctance because this situation is unprecedented, in Quebec or anywhere else, of a Prime Minister and a government that intends to suspend individual freedoms. One can say anything about the judgement [of the Court], but it is clear that the law of the land, following this judgement is that commercial advertising is part of fundamental freedoms. As citizens we cannot pick and choose among the laws that apply to us. [...]

"Thus, at the level of principles, it was an extremely difficult decision to make. The tradition of our party, our hearts and our minds, all impelled us to try to preserve to the utmost individual freedoms. Thus, we have tried, with a formula, to take both aspects into consideration. However, in the end, as I had to arbitrate between individual rights and collective rights, I arbitrated on the side of collective rights when I decided to use the notwithstanding clause.

"I repeat that I am the only head of a government in North America who has the moral justification to act in this manner because I am the only leader of a people that is very much in minority on this continent. Who can best and better defend, protect and promote French culture than the prime Minister of Quebec?"

© For the translation, 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College