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Quebec premier Robert Bourassa’s dilemma over Bill 101

The Story


The day after Premier Robert Bourassa invokes the notwithstanding clause to ignore the Supreme Court's ruling, three anglophone ministers quit his cabinet. They are Minister of Public Security Herbert Marx, Minister of Communications Richard French and Minister of Environment Clifford Lincoln, all highly respected members in the Liberal party. "In my belief rights are rights are rights," Lincoln says in an emotional speech in the Quebec National Assembly as shown in this clip. "There are no such things as inside rights and outside rights... all of us are human beings with rights," says Lincoln. Bill 178, which endorses Bourassa's inside/outside solution regarding signs, alienates almost everyone. Anglophones see it as a shocking betrayal of Bourassa's explicit campaign promise while thousands of francophones fill the streets to protest what they see as a retreat. Premier Bourassa pleads for understanding from the English. "I know it's a tough moment for them. My government is asking them for an enormous concession on grounds of principal."

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 20, 1988
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Workman
Duration: 3:31

Did You know?


• John Ciaccia was the only anglophone member to remain in Robert Bourassa's cabinet. He said while he opposed Bill 178 he thought he could do more inside the cabinet than outside.
• A 1989 Gallup poll showed that while 61 per cent of Quebecers believed bilingual signs should be tolerated in the province, 77 per cent also said it was more important for francophones to preserve their culture than to honour the freedom of speech of English-speaking Quebecers.

• Some observers blamed the failure of 1990 Meech Lake accord partially on the shock and anger from English-speaking Canada over Bourassa's use of the notwithstanding clause. The accord would have recognized Quebec as a distinct society.
• In 1993, the United Nations also declared that Bill 178 was in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty Canada had signed.

• When the notwithstanding clause expired five years later in 1993, Bill 86 replaced Bill 178 on June 17. Bill 86 allowed other languages on signs, provided that French has predominance.
• On the 20th anniversary of the day Bill 101 became law, Louise Beaudoin, Quebec's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, talked about the impact and legacy of Bill 101 in an interview with CBC's Dennis Trudeau.

• On Mar. 31, 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the Quebec government must revamp its controversial French language charter, Bill 101. The ruling stopped short of striking down Bill 101 but laid down new legal criteria, making it easier for immigrants and native-born Canadians who moved to Quebec from other provinces to be educated in English.


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