• Hunter Cresswell

Too little, too late

A crowd of about 70 people showed up outside the La Pêche arena in Masham to protest Bill 96 on May 20, four days before the Quebec National Assembly passed it.


This was the first time Gatineau Hills residents actually showed up en masse and in person to make their feelings on the bill known.


Too little, too late it seems.


Since Coalition Avenir Quebec politicians introduced this bill in May 2021, the English media across Quebec has been beating the drum about its repercussions. The Low Down has run countless stories about the bill. I’ve personally written 22 pieces involving Bill 96 — this editorial is the 23rd and it won’t be my last.


Y’all had a whole year to organize and it finally happened when the bill was all but rubber stamped. Good on those who turned out, but what took you so long?


Are we too tired to care or do we have too much to care about?


Climate crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, unmarked graves of First Nations children stolen from their homes, societal racial and gender reckonings, overseas conflicts, and a dumpster fire south of the border take up a lot of bandwidth. It’s easy to put English services in Quebec on the back burner when it’s compared to national and international issues.


Maybe Quebec anglophones are just plain tired of fighting for their language and losing.


Maybe the high population of public servants or Ontario workers who live in the Hills means that Bill 96 won’t affect them. Heck, the Outaouais is so underserved by the Quebec government that a lot of locals already seek health, childcare, educational, and services in Ottawa anyway.


But the reality is, lots will change under Bill 96 if no legal challenges are successful.


Warrantless language cops can search and seize the property of businesses with 25 or more employees to make sure that company communications are in French. People will have to pay for court translation services out of pocket if they want to fight even a traffic ticket in English. The enrollment at English CEGEPS across Quebec will be capped and students will be forced to now take a total of five French language courses to graduate. A tattle-tale hotline will allow people to report those who contravene the rules. And the jury is still out on health services because different lawyers disagree if the bill truly will protect access to healthcare in English in the long term. Is this the Quebec we all imagined? At least more funding will be made available for French-learning courses.


Would it have even made a difference if more locals caused a bigger fuss earlier in the Bill 96 process?


Thousands attended multiple Bill 96 protests in Montreal over the past year. The Montreal association of school boards spoke up. The Quebec Community Groups Network held hearings on the bill. All this and the CAQ didn’t change course.


Time will tell how Bill 96 will actually impact day-to-day life in Quebec; time will also tell if the CAQ is still in power when it comes time to renew the bill.