The federal government plans to use the upcoming reform of the Official Languages Act to draft new rules for the use of French in federal-managed companies in Quebec, sources told Radio-Canada.
The measures were in response to increasing pressure from the Quebec government to protect the rights of French-speaking workers in federally regulated sectors such as banking and telecommunications. Currently, companies in these sectors are not affected by the federal Official Languages Act or the French Language Regulations of Quebec.
Federal sources insist that Ottawa is not planning to cede any new power to the Quebec government. They say the federal government is moving towards imposing new protections for French-speaking workers in federally managed companies.
“We are not going to let the provincial government do this for us,” a federal official said.
Liberal party officials and caucus sources said that although a new approach to language problems in Ottawa is needed, no one wants to provide broader linguistic authority to the Quebec government or change the overall approach to language rights of minorities.
Crucial for the Quebec government is the status of the approximately 135,000 employees working in federally administered sectors in the province. Although many companies in these industries voluntarily comply with the province’s regulations on the use of French in the workplace, they do not have any legal obligation to do so.
In recent weeks, the Quebec Parliament and six former consecrated governors have called on federally administered companies to comply with the same requirement by the Francophone Charter – more widely known as Bill 101 – as the companies managed by the province are complying. In addition, the charter calls on companies with more than 50 employees to have a certificate stating that French is their usual business language.
Any attempt by the Quebec government to impose the law of its language in areas under its federal jurisdiction could lead to a legal battle with the federal government.
In addition to changing the Official Languages Act, federal officials say the government also intends to act on immigration policies and regulations by major internet companies to fulfill their promises to protect French in all provinces.
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