in the National Assembly
"Mr. President, I find myself once again in a linguistic debate. This is the third linguistic debate of my political career. First of all, let me state that I accept the decision of the Supreme Court. I accept the principle of the preponderance of French to give a linguistic face to Quebec, and I accept the principle of freedom of expression. I believe in fundamental right, and I have always thought that our laws must conform to the supremacy of the charters of rights. You will understand that the decision of our government has disappointed me and that it has caused me a good deal of anguish. In the last several days, I have reflected a good deal about this decision of the Court and to the personal stand that I would take in this debate. I wish to make you a party to my careful considerations.
"The history of our linguistic debates is a very sad one. These debates have caused stirring and wrenching within our society, on both sides of the National Assembly, and among the various groups of our society. The francophone community has felt, and still feels, endangered. I understand that, and the Supreme Court has accepted that there is anxiety about the survival of the French language. When one deals with survival, one speaks of identity, even of a person or of a group; it touches the very soul of each individual within that society. As a non-francophone, I do not really have the right to say that these fears are not justified. Rather, I must try to focus on what should be done to alleviate these fears. The minorities have always opposed the solutions proposed by the different governments and, consequently, on the francophone side, there has emerged a perception of the anglophone minority as one that does not understand the preoccupations of francophones.
"I understand the anger and the frustrations of the English-speaking community. I fought for the application of the judgement in its entirety. I tried to get our government to accept this policy. My efforts and those of many of my colleagues were not entirely successful. The governments decision excludes the use of another language on exterior signs and, to be able to apply the use of French only on exterior signs, the government has chosen and has been obliged to introduce a notwithstanding clause. Without this clause, this issue would have returned to the courts. I am disappointed and sorry about this decision and I certainly understand the initial reaction of the English-speaking community, which was also my reaction.
"The English-speaking community has been fighting this language issue since at least 1974, and without satisfaction. My experience has shown me that confrontation has not worked. We continue to give the wrong messages to the French-speaking community. The English-speaking community seems to strengthen the perceptions in the francophone community that it does not understand the concerns and the fears over their language. That is not to the feeling of everyone, but that is the perception, the messages that are sent to the community, that English Quebecers are not really concerned sufficiently with their needs to protect the French-speaking community and to do it in a tangible way.
"I think that we have the obligation to change this perception. There is obviously a psychological barrier between the two communities and perhaps we must reverse our approach. Rather than tell the French-speaking community that their fears are ill-founded let us try and convince them that they will not be threatened by our acts.
"What can I do? What can we all do? [ ] Perhaps a gesture of generosity, understanding and tolerance is needed on our part, even though we may feel that the Government has let the English-speaking community down. Progress has been made [ ].
"I have mentioned that we have made great progress in our society. The executive of my riding association has supported this government policy. As you all know, I am of Italian origin and, in 1968, I was present during the language riots in Saint-Leonard. In 1988, the leaders of the Italian community have written to me and have asked to stay within the cabinet and to continue to represent well the interests of Quebecers, including those of our community
"I believe that we are not going to be creating a climate of harmony and understanding by confrontation. And the question that we can ask ourselves is: What is the spectacle that we are creating of our society, to Quebeckers [sic], to the rest of Canada and to the rest of the world? I believe that by staying I can do more than by leaving.
© For the translation, 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College