Quebec Liberals walk back their own proposal for 3 French courses in English CEGEPs

Quebec's opposition Liberals are offering a 'mea culpa' and dropping support for their own idea to require all students at English CEGEPs to take three courses taught in French, after pushback from school administrators who said it would affect student success.

Leader Dominique Anglade says party will vote against CAQ's Bill 96

Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, seen here during question period on Feb. 22, said her party cannot support the CAQ's proposed French language legislation, Bill 96, in its current form. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's opposition Liberals are offering a "mea culpa" and dropping support for their own idea to require all students at English CEGEPs to take three courses taught in French, after pushback from school administrators who said it would affect student success.

The amendment, inspired by a proposal by Liberal MNAs Hélène David and David Birnbaum, was adopted unanimously by the committee studying Bill 96, which aims to modify Quebec's charter of the French language.

But Liberal leader Dominique Anglade said her party would still be voting against the bill, saying the idea was proposed "in good faith," but that they cannot support how the CAQ government wants to implement it.

She blamed Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language, for not consulting with others about the logistics of implementing the courses.

"[We thought] the minister was having those conversations with not only the CEGEPs but the Ministry of Education, and then we realized there was absolutely nothing of that happening. Nothing," Anglade said in an interview with Sean Henry on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Monday. 

At a news conference Tuesday, Anglade admitted her own party should have also consulted in advance with English CEGEPs before proposing the idea but said it was important to acknowledge when it was time to go back to the drawing board.

Anglade said in order to be feasible, the proposal would have to be reworked in order to give CEGEPs three years to phase in the courses, and to ensure that students' R scores — a key measure of academic performance used in university admissions in Quebec — would not be affected by their grades in the classes.

She said another major factor in her party's decision to oppose the bill is the CAQ's amendment putting a hard cap on enrolment in English-language CEGEPs.

While Jolin-Barrette has said the bill would not prevent students from attending the school of their choice, Anglade said the CAQ is trying to "apply Bill 101 to CEGEPs," by making it more difficult for francophone and allophone students to attend.

"Basically what he's doing is telling all the English-speaking CEGEPs that they won't be able to expand, ever," said Anglade, "and for no good reason."

The Parti Québécois, meanwhile, has argued Bill 96 does not go far enough and has launched a petition calling for students who attended French-language schools in Quebec to be required to continue their college education in French. 

Pascal Bérubé, the PQ critic for the French language and for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, called the Liberal back-track "a circus" and "shameful."

He said the PQ does not intend to support the Liberals' call for the amendment to be withdrawn.

"That's their problem.... Deal with it," said Bérubé, in response to a reporter's question Tuesday. "What do you want me to do, talk to the Liberals, give them a pep talk?"

Anglade said while her party supports promoting the French language and making language classes accessible to all Quebecers, she accused the CAQ of creating "division between anglophone and francophones."

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Premier François Legault said it was surprising that the Liberals were backing off of their own proposal, which all four parties supported.

"Now the Liberal Party is telling us, 'Well, we spoke with our anglophones and they're upset, so we'd like to change our minds.' Well, listen, it was voted in unanimously," said Legault. 

The premier said his government would discuss the amendment with opposition parties and whether implementation of the courses should be delayed.

English CEGEPs 'shocked' by amendment

The reversal comes after administrators of several English CEGEPS spoke out against the amendment, saying it would not be feasible to implement and would affect the success of students. 

"We were quite concerned when we heard about this amendment; in fact, we were shocked," said John McMahon, director general of Vanier College, who said the schools were not consulted. 

"Just to be clear, we're not talking about French second-language courses, we're talking history course, physics course, and so forth," he said.

CEGEPs have said the requirement would leave them scrambling to try to hire teachers qualified to teach the courses in French in time for the fall semester.

Christian Corno, director general at Marianopolis College, argues it would affect the grades of students who may have been able to pass high school French but are not not able to study other subjects in their second language.

"It's another ball game to actually be successful in a subject matter such as physics or sociology," said Corno. "[They] might be able to do OK, but not with the grades that they'd need if they were interested in being admitted to med school at McGill."

But PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon argued that all CEGEP students should be able to pass those courses in French. He pointed out that he himself took college-level courses in Danish in various subjects when living in Denmark, and university courses in Swedish and English while in Sweden.

"The French language is the common language in Quebec, and if citizens in Quebec do not have the minimum level of mastery and understanding and cannot work in French, we manufacture problems," said Plamondon.

"If you want to work in a language, you should be at the level that you're able to take a CEGEP class in the same language. Period."

Research has shown that anglophone Quebecers have higher rates of unemployment, in part due to French language skills.

Corno said the intent to increase the presence and exposure to French for English CEGEP students is "very noble," but he said the government needs to take a more "systemic approach" by working to improve French education for English students at all levels. 

McMahon said solutions could include organizing internships for "English students in francophone companies." 

"We are absolutely committed to preserving French, to promoting french and to increase the opportunities to all students to improve their French levels … but this was not the way to do it," he said. 


  • A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling of the name of Vanier College director general, John McMahon. CBC regrets the error.
    Apr 05, 2022 4:14 PM ET

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak