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Bilingual status of cities, hospitals in potential danger: CSL mayor, councillor

By Joel Goldenberg

Côte St. Luc mayor Anthony Housefather and Côte St. Luc Councillor Glenn Nashen are hoping residents of municipalities with bilingual status already or will properly identify themselves as mother tongue English on the 2011 Census questionnaire.

The issue of bilingual status is especially important now, says an article on Nashen’s blog, because of a PQ proposal to “change the rules related to bilingual status of municipalities.”

“The new tools the PQ wants to grant the Office Québécois de la Langue Française would see many communities potentially lose bilingual status,” the blog article adds. “Even a community with as many English-speaking residents as Côte St. Luc would be in jeopardy.

“The ramification of not indicating English as your mother tongue, if indeed it was one of them, is huge should the next PQ government decide to take a closer look.”

“As a mayor, this is dear to my heart,” Housefather told an audience at Westmount's Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Sunday.

Bilingual status enables a municipality to post signs and communicate with users in English and French. The rule also applies to hospitals.

The problem, Housefather and Nashen said, is that while the Quebec government currently cannot revoke a municipality's bilingual status, unless the municipality requests it, the PQ proposes to give the OQLF back this power.

Another problem is that in the 1990s, the PQ made attaining bilingual status more difficult, by demanding that more than 50 percent of residents be mother tongue English, rather than the original rule of language most often used.

Moreover, an even bigger problem, Housefather pointed out, is that some municipalities that have bilingual status already have less than 50 percent English mother tongue speakers, even though most residents might use English regularly. Town of Mount Royal is in this situation, as it is “way below the criteria for bilingual status,” the mayor said.

Thus, if the PQ comes to power and follows through on its promise, such bilingual status could be at risk.

And in terms of hospitals, “there are very few on the island of Montreal where 50 percent of the users are mother tongue English speaking,”

Housefather said. “You may have hospitals like the Jewish General where 75 percent of patients may prefer to speak English, but if you go to the mother tongue question, they're probably well below 50 percent.

“If you go to municipalities across the island, you have that same issue. Many of the cities across the island have dropped below 50 percent mother tongue.

The mayor warned that the PQ will now look at the 2011 Census answer of mother tongue language, not what language is used at home.

“A lot of people, perhaps, didn't understand that when they filled out the census - they may have written Yiddish when they could have reasonably said they learned Yiddish and English at the same time. You're allowed to write both. If you forgot your first language or don't speak it very much anymore, you're allowed to write your other new language, which would be English.

“People don't understand the importance of this question and it's totally unfair, because [mother tongue] is a ridiculous rule and law. So it's very important the whole English-speaking community in Montreal and anywhere else in Quebec - anybody who is legitimately, legally able to write English on that question, you're the one who decides what your mother tongue is - understands the ramifications of writing English on that question.”


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