May 19, 2022

The language protest movement could become a new political party

A final decision on a party will be made “in the coming months”.

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QUEBEC CITY — A group of English-speaking Quebecers fighting against language revisions by the provincial and federal governments are seriously considering taking their fight to another level and creating a new provincial political party.

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Colin Standish, the Eastern Townships language activist who founded the Language Policy Task Force last year to challenge the changes, said members of his group and others have formed a exploratory committee to sound out voters on the merits of creating a new provincial party in time to field candidates for the 2022 election.

The group seeks what it has labeled political orphans, including Anglophones, Allophones, Aboriginals and Francophones.

In addition to beef over Bill 96 revamping the Charter of the French language and amendments to the federal Official Languages ​​Act, they are also unhappy with Quebec’s law on secularism and the reshuffling of school boards launched by the government of the Coalition Avenir Québec.

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“It’s not a backlash or a protest move from a group of English speakers,” Standish said in an interview. “We are established and responsible citizens who feel they have been let down by mainstream political parties and are looking for an alternative.

“We are exploring the idea of ​​a new political party to speak on behalf of people orphaned from the political process.”

As for the name of the party, Standish said organizers are considering various options. A final decision on a party will come “in the coming months”, he said. General elections will take place in October 2022.

The group is not yet registered with Elections Quebec, which is a requirement under election law. Quebec currently has 21 political parties, including the four major ones: Coalition Avenir Québec, Liberal Party, Québec solidaire and Parti québécois.

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Standish said he has identified a potential candidate to run in the Liberal stronghold riding of Westmount—Saint-Louis. Standish would not say who the candidate is, but noted that the goal, if the party were to start, would be to field candidates in all 125 ridings in Quebec.

“It’s not just an exploratory balloon,” Standish said. “It’s a serious and credible project.”

The group’s exploratory website says it will be “A party to defend our rights”.

“Linguistic, educational and religious rights are under attack,” he said. “Join concerned Quebeckers to build a party that respects you and that will fight for you in the National Assembly.

It’s hard to gauge the level of support, Standish said. However, the task force itself, which wrote a detailed analysis of Bill 96, has about 850 registered members and $25,000 in the bank. A Facebook page has around 1,900 followers.

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Standish stressed that if a party emerged, it would be separated from the task force. The task force itself has well-known veterans of Quebec’s language battles, including constitutionalist Brent Tyler and former Equality Party leader Keith Henderson on its advisory board.

If the movement takes off, it could pose a problem in certain ridings for the Liberals, who traditionally attract the votes of non-French speakers in Quebec.

The Liberals are in a difficult position: looking for ways to bolster support from the French-speaking majority without alienating its base of Anglophone and allophone voters.

The fight has been visible in recent weeks during the detailed study of Bill 96 in committee of the National Assembly.

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Last week, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade announced that the party could not support the bill in its current form, a statement that Standish says does not go far enough.

At the party’s political convention in November, where his more nationalist 27-point language policy was not debated, Anglade nevertheless said English speakers were better off with his party.

Standish disagrees.

“The Liberals have really abandoned basic human rights, language rights and minorities in Quebec have just been thrown under the bus,” he said. “The PLQ (Liberal Party of Quebec) is no exception, although it ostensibly represents many non-French ridings.

If the party emerges, it would not be the first time that minority anger against language laws has boiled over in Quebec.

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In 1989, English-speaking Quebecers formed the Equality Party in response to then-Prime Minister Robert Bourassa’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to overturn a Supreme Court decision authorizing a language other than French on outdoor commercial signs.

In the backlash, Equality elected four members of the Legislative Assembly in ridings traditionally held by Liberals. They sat for one term. None were re-elected.

Montreal architect and columnist Robert Libman, who launched Equality and served as its leader in 1989, is the only one of the four still alive. The party was dissolved in 2012.

Libman recently said the English-speaking community seemed unprepared for another language debate and that Quebec needed a single-issue political party to bring minority concerns to the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

Minority groups such as the Quebec Community Groups Network have spoken out against Bill 96, but much of the dissent on the bill has come from nationalists who feel it does not go far enough.

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  1. Marcus Tabachnick, former executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association, is seen in a November 2019 file photo. He will be part of the task force opposing language law reforms, the group says.

    Prominent English speakers unite to fight language law changes

  2. The National Assembly in Quebec.

    Language task force wants Ottawa to block Quebec’s Bill 96

  3. D'Arcy-McGee Liberal MP David Birnbaum meets his constituents during the 2018 election.

    New Anglophone Liberal spokesperson says he senses angst in community

  4. Notice: The Language Policy Working Group fights for the rights of Quebecers

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