Quebec HistoryMarianopolis College
 HomeAbout this siteSite SearchMarianopolis College Library

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]

M. Clifford Lincoln,
Minister of Environment and Member for Nelligan,
Liberal Party.

[translation; Mr. Lincoln stated that he was born in Mauritius where French and English cultures live side-by-side as in Quebec. When he first came to Canada, he lived in British Columbia but he did not feel comfortable because he missed French culture, so he had come to Quebec]

[…] "Individual freedoms, the respect for the weak within society, for minorities, that is the essential creed of any liberal party.


"I have a profound attachment to Quebec; I know it is one that is different from yours who, for most of you, were born here. I understand that your attachment runs deep, into generations of several hundred years; but I want to tell you that in my own way I also love Quebec. It is my land as it is yours. I have chosen to live here, and I have chosen to be grateful to Quebec where I was welcomed with such warmth and generosity.


"The issue here is not an issue of signs, it is not an issue of anglophones and francophones, it is a societal issue, one that strikes into the deepest political commitment, that is to say how we conceive freedoms, individual rights and fundamental rights in a society. It is not a question of signs in black, white, pink or green, but it is an issue of the right of an individual to put something on a sign if that is his desire.


"Yes, those who have lost the right to post signs had a right that was fundamental, had freedom of expression; this was demonstrated by successive judgements of the Superior court, the Appeal court and, lastly, of the Supreme Court. These have said: yes we think that the French language, as the member for Gouin has stated, is in danger and vulnerable, but, despite that, we do not think that it justifies restricting freedom of expression, a fundamental right. Let us make an accommodation by which the French language, threatened and vulnerable, would be preponderant but without restricting the right of others.

"Now, we have applied a notwithstanding clause and this distresses me because this runs contrary to my personal commitment to say we have liberty but, for some reasons, whatever the reasons, we restrict it, subtract from it, withdraw from it.


[In English]

"In my belief, rights are rights are rights. There is no such think as inside rights and outside rights. No such thing as right for the tall and rights for the short. No such thing as rights for the front and rights for the back, or rights for East and rights for West. Rights are rights and will always be rights. There are no partial rights. Rights are fundamental rights. Rights are links in a chain of fundamental values that bind all individuals in a society that wants to be equitable, and just, and fair. Rights are bridges that unite people in a society through a set of fundamental values, and the minute you deny those rights, you withdraw that bridge, and create a gap between members of that society by denying those fundamental rights that bind them together.

"Rights are that delicate balance that equates the chances of people in a society, so that there is an equation between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the weak, between the majorities and the minorities, between the State and the individual. Whoever tampers with a very delicate machinery of equity and justice in a society, which are expressed through rights, sets in motion a chain of events which someone more audacious may tamper with even more. That chain of events could be disastrous for a society whose beliefs are based on a sense of equity and justice for all.

"All of us are human beings first. We are not francophone, anglophone, rich, poor, weak and strong, first, we are human beings with rights. And for me, I will fight until my last breath for the right of some person to do something that society says he has that right to do and, in that case, that person, be it English or French or Chinese or whatever, has that right to paint that sign on the exterior of his building, and I do not think that it should be denied.



"I would have preferred fundamentally, - I say this in all sincerity-, that everything would remain as before rather than to do something that is humiliating and say: inside everything is permitted, but, outside, do not post signs because this injures us. I do not think that this is what francophones believe. I do realise that security, and the threat that has become so firmly anchored in the perception of francophones, make it so that it is believed that the French face of Quebec will disappear if posting signs in English was permitted.

"I think differently, but I profoundly respect your opinions. What I do not accept is that this right is removed in an arbitrary fashion. I believe, along with the judges of the Supreme Court, that the linguistic face of Quebec must reflect the reality of Quebec. The reality of the face of Quebec is in great majority francophone. Chicoutimi will never change. Montreal, in its main role, will not change. However, there are places where anglophones live. They too have the right to have their language outside somewhere, so as to feel well in their skin.


In concluding, I would like to tell you that despite this very sad decision that I will take today, I remain first and above all fundamentally attached to my ideals as a Liberal. I will stay as a member of the Liberal caucus, and I also wish to continue as a member of this Parliament because, in my way, I too am a Québécois attached very deeply to this land. This year was a very difficult one for me. My wife was buried in Quebec; it is the greatest tribute that I can render to Quebec. Quebec will continue to be a land that will unite people, not divide them. We must continue to work together, to seek mechanisms, and after the tearing apart of this vote, and everything else that has happened here, I hope that we can begin to try working solutions together […].

Note from the translator: following the adoption of Bill 178, three anglophone cabinet ministers resigned from the government and, eventually, from the National Assembly. These resignations were to protest the adoption of Bill 178. The ministers resigning were: Herbert Marx, Clifford Lincoln and Richard French. Anglophone discontent with the Bourassa Liberal government was also expressed by the establishment, shortly thereafter, of the Equality Party. This essentially anglophone party elected four candidates in the provincial elections of 1989. It is estimated that where the fielded candidates, in essentially anglophone and allophone areas of Quebec, the Equality Party received between 70-78% of the anglophone vote.

© For the translation, 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College