Quebec lawmakers call on businesses to simply say, 'Bonjour'

Quebec politicians have passed a unanimous motion calling on businesses to greet their customers with a warm "bonjour," rather than the "bonjour/hi" often heard in Montreal's shops and restaurants.

Motion introduced by Parti Québécois gets unanimous approval from Quebec MNAs

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée has suggested the bilingual greeting is a sign of erosion of the French language in the workplace. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec politicians have passed a unanimous motion calling on businesses to greet their customers with a simple, warm "bonjour," rather than the "bonjour/hi" often heard in Montreal's shops and restaurants.

All 111 MNAs who were present voted in favour on Thursday, including every Liberal MNA.

Introduced by the Opposition Parti Québécois, a staunch defender of the French language, the motion "invites all businesses and workers who enter into contact with local and international clients to welcome them warmly with the word 'bonjour.'" 

The motion, which carries no legal weight, comes after two days of heated debate at the province's National Assembly over the bilingual welcome, bonjour/hi.

The greeting is used by many Montreal businesses as a way to signal customers are welcome to speak in either French or English.

The debate flared up after census numbers released Wednesday showed a slight drop in French as the main language in the workplace in some parts of Quebec.

The PQ's Jean-François Lisée has repeatedly pressed the premier to condemn the use of bonjour/hi, calling it a sign of a creeping bilingualism in Montreal workplaces.

After change, Couillard backs motion

Premier Philippe Couillard took exception to the original wording of the PQ's motion, which called the bilingual greeting "an irritant." 

The PQ lifted that term from Quebec's new French language minister, Marie Montpetit, who had used it to describe bonjour/hi during an interview with the French-language TVA news channel last Friday.

With the term "irritant" removed from the motion, Couillard said he decided to support the motion because he wanted to affirm the predominance of French.

"The sentence that I think was offensive for English-speaking Quebecers was to qualify an English word as an irritant for the population. This being removed, I think it is a very good text," he said.

Montrealers weigh in

Quebec politicians have passed a unanimous motion calling on businesses to greet their customers with a simple "bonjour," rather than the "bonjour/hi." Here's what you think. 0:55

Reaction on the streets of Montreal was mixed.

Some said they prefer the bilingual greeting.

"By just saying bonjour, it takes the charm out of Montreal, I think, because we are a bilingual city," said Montrealer Marie Nakhleh.

Others told CBC News they understood what the motion was trying to accomplish.

"I never saw anything wrong with bonjour/hi, but I get it if they want to uphold their French heritage, which seems like what they're trying to do."

Jan Wilson, manager at Sir Winston Churchill pub on Crescent Street, says she doesn't think it was necessary for politicians to pass a motion addressing how customers are greeted. (CBC)
Jan Wilson, the manager of Sir Winston Churchill pub on Crescent Street in downtown Montreal, says she's made hiring French-language speakers a priority and thinks the motion is unnecessary.    

"We're here to service the public, and we want them to feel as comfortable as possible. So if we can switch to their language, English or French, we'll do so."

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours