A sign, in both French and English, at Chelsea Town Hall in Quebec reads: “Chelsea’s municipal staff is committed to serve you in both official languages.”
But that may no longer be the case – if the Parti Quebecois government’s new Bill 14 is approved. The legislation on the table of the National Assembly – which is an amendment to the Bill 101 language law – would give the government the right to revoke the bilingual status of municipalities whose population number is less than 50 per cent anglophone.
It would mean anglophone Chelsea residents having to say goodbye to municipal services in their preferred language and documents being available in English upon special request only. Anglophones would get their tax bills in French. English would be scrapped from signs, and council meetings would be conducted in French.
Mayor Caryl Green said this bill is “an attack” on Chelsea’s culture and heritage as a bilingual community.
“We celebrate our two cultures or two languages,” she said. “We’re willing to fight and oppose this draft law.”
Chelsea is one of three bilingual municipalities in the Gatineau Hills that’s joining the charge to fight Bill 14. At press time, Kazabazua was set pass a resolution March 5 opposing the legislation. Low and Chelsea will follow suit.
Liberal Gatineau MNA Stephanie Vallee met with the mayors of these municipalities and said Bill 14 is “clearly unacceptable.” The PQ will only fuel linguistic divides, she said.
“They’re only going to bring back old tension and tension with the French-speaking population and the English-speaking population,” Vallee said. “I don’t think that we’re there. We don’t want to go there anymore. We have other preoccupations that we should be addressing in Quebec.”
Vallee is preparing a brief on behalf of those mayors to present to the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s anglophone population dipped below the 50- per cent mark for the first time as shown in the last census in 2011. The municipality numbering 6,780 residents is now 46.7 per cent English-speaking.
Low and Kaz, which populations numbers are less than 1,000, are 56.1 and 49.3 per cent English-speaking, respectively.
Kaz Mayor Ota Hora said the new legislation would be “counter-productive,” especially for those municipalities vying for tourists from Ontario.
“Historically, this community was settled by both language groups,” he said, adding that council meetings are usually conducted in English, but councillors are able to answer questions in French. “There’s never been a language problem here.”
Chelsea employees, for the most part, communicate in French, but the public works staffers are largely English-speaking. They would be required to switch languages. Even the Town Hall microwave would need a French upgrade.
Green said Bill 14 could deter business owners who might want to set up shop in Chelsea. Anglophone entrepreneurs who already have to jump through municipal hoops for permits could be dissuaded by French-only procedures.
She’s also worried what the legislation would mean for the planned palliative care centre for the region. Although it’s slated for Wakefield – which is situated in the officially-French La Peche municipality – it will serve the CSSS des Collines region, of which Chelsea is a part. But if Bill 14 is approved as is, it may be forced to operate in French only.
Jean-Francois Lemieux, the press secretary to Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for the Charter of the French language, said there will be a public consultation process on the legislation.
“Madame De Courcy is listening to people’s concerns about this issue,” said Lemieux.
People can give feedback to the proposed legislation online at www.assnat.qc.ca/charte2013.
There are 84 municipalities across Quebec that have bilingual status. Of those regions, almost a quarter (21) are in the Outaouais.
There will be government hearings on the proposed legislation starting March 12, when the National Assembly resumes sitting after the March break.