Chelsea mayor Pierre Guénard says that offering services to residents in both official languages is about more than just legislation and comes to “basic respect.”
Guénard told the Low Down that staff and elected councillors all agree that they are happy with Chelsea’s official bilingual status and will continue to provide services in English to both non-historic and historic anglophones in light of the province’s controversial Bill 96.
“When somebody writes an email to staff, if it’s in French, we answer in French. If it’s in English, we answer back in English,” explained Guénard. “It’s important for basic respect for the individuals. In Europe, people speak fluently four or five languages; here, a minimum of two. It’s good. We need to give basic services to our residents in their own language.”
Chelsea requested to keep its official bilingual status during its last term of office and, despite Bill 96 restricting access to English services for “non-historic anglophones” – those and their family who did not attend English school in Canada –, Guénard said English services would remain intact for everyone.
“What [Bill 96] says is that the language in the workspace should be French. But that is internal,” he said. “The municipal council — all the resolutions we read are in French, but when somebody comes to the public question period, we answer back in the language in which they asked their question.”
In La Pêche, there is no official bilingual status, which means that the municipality is not obligated to provide English services to residents, but because of such a significant anglophone population in the region, Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux said that the municipality will “continue to provide services in English as needed.”
Despite not being recognized as an official bilingual municipality, Lamoureux told the Low Down that the municipality has English speakers in every department capable of managing residents’ requests.
He said that La Pêche’s diversity should be celebrated.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the province, but I find that six months to learn French may be too short for certain immigrants,” said Lamoureux, regarding the CAQ’s Bill 96 clause that will force immigrants to learn the language within six months.
“For our municipality, we will continue to respect the law. We are fortunate in La Pêche to have many individuals and families with different cultural backgrounds. We’re an inclusive territory, and many people of diverse groups enjoy calling our municipality home. The municipality will continue to provide services in English as needed,” he said.
The ruling CAQ government’s controversial Bill 96, passed into law earlier this summer, restricts non-historic anglophones from receiving services in English, including court documents and healthcare, and forces CEGEP students to study more French in order to graduate.