Bill 101

A landmark provincial law introduced in 1977 to protect the French language in Quebec.

The law, formally known in English as the Charter of the French Language, was introduced by Quebec’s first-ever separatist government led by the Parti Quebecois’ Rene Levesque. It sought to address long-held grievances about the perceived threats to the French language in the cradle province of French Canada.

Hugely controversial at the time among Anglo-Quebeckers and Canadians outside Quebec (and just as popular among francophone Quebeckers), Bill 101 introduced strict guidelines to ensure French was treated as the official language used in workplaces and educational institutions across the province.

Advocates saw Bill 101 as necessary to correct a situation in which francophones ( at the time more than 80% of Quebec’s population) were treated like second class citizens in their own province, forced to work and live in another language. As well, the law sought to reverse the demographic trend of declining use of the French language.

Opponents – most humorously the Montreal novelist Mordecai Richler – felt the grievances (and threats) were overstated, and that a bureaucracy meant to measure the size of French or English on signs or whether “hot dog” or “Dunkin Donuts” were English or French terms was an epic case of misplaced resources.

Four decades on, Bill 101 must be considered a success. Its embrace by Quebeckers is as strong as ever. Successive generations of immigrants have mastered the French language (and, it should be noted, bi- and often tri-lingualism). And Quebec is clearly, unambiguously, and undebatably a French-speaking province.

Most significantly, the sense of decline or vulnerability of francophone Quebeckers has been largely minimized. Indeed, this greater confidence has led to a steep, long-term decline for support of Quebec separation, as Quebecers have seen their language sustained and growing within Canada, a dynamic that might be seen as slightly ironic by early Bill 101 supporters and opponents.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Suggested by Parli Contributors Tihana M. and Judyth M.

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