Conservatives MPs almost voted in totality with the Bloc Québécois earlier this week on a private member's bill that would have made French the mandatory language for all immigrants to Quebec, had it passed. Initiated by MP Sylvie Bérubé, the bill was ultimately defeated 147 for to 172 against as the Liberals, NDP and Green Party members voted in the negative. Only New Brunswick MP John Williamson, a Conservative, dissented from the party line. Bérubé said the bill’s intent was to guarantee any citizen who resides in Quebec “integrate[s]into their host society.”
“In Quebec, the common language is French. The purpose of the [province’s] Charter of the French Language is to make French the official and common language of Quebec,” she said. “Right now, a permanent resident who wants to become a citizen and reside in Quebec could do so without knowing a single word of French.”
Ranking Conservative Ontario MP and health critic Marilyn Gladu equally called the vote an "important issue."
“I think it is important to protect the French language in Canada, especially in Quebec.” As someone who previously travelled frequently to Quebec for work, Gladu said. “Our party supports strengthening the French language in Canada,” she said, “and we would like to see this bill go to committee.”
Afterwards, the Bloc accused Prime Minister Trudeau and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly of acceding to the decline of the French language in Quebec, a hot-button issue in the province. “[They] have a big credibility deficit,” said Mario Beaulieu, the Bloc’s critic for official languages .
Currently, the Citizenship Act states that applicants aged 18 to 54 must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada before obtaining citizenship. Back in 2019, the Bloc campaigned on a change to that law so that those residing in Quebec needed knowledge of just French. The move clearly had some appeal - the Bloc won 32 seats in 2019, the most since they've taken since 2008.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is evidently trying to secure a foothold in the province among Bloc voters sitting on the fence. “The Conservatives are offering Quebeckers a serious alternative to the Liberals. We are the only ones who can beat them in the next election and form the next government,” said MP Raquel Dancho.
Currently, the CPC has only 10 seats in the province, with most of Quebec's 78 seats, often seen as a ticket to a majority government, in the hands of the Liberals and Bloc.
Although the conservative CAQ currently holds a strong majority in the provincial legislature, this isn't translating to federal support of the CPC - many CAQ voters are opting to vote for the Liberals or Bloc instead, despite their more leftward slant. The most recent Angus Reid survey has the Liberals with the support of 31% of Quebec voters, the Bloc with 29%, and the Conservatives still trailing with 18%. This isn't nearly enough.
There's another issue about the constitutionality of forcing a language mandate on Canadian citizens. Not only is Canada a bilingual state where citizenship cannot have differing criteria depending on whether you live in English or French-speaking Canada, but most immigrants to Quebec speak French anyways, rendering the bill's utility questionable. According to Huffington Post, 90.5 per cent of economic immigrants, 71.1 per cent of immigrants under the family reunification program and 84.3 per cent of refugees speak French ten years after their arrival in Quebec.