The Métropolitain

Marois, Bill 101 and small business: Mean-spirited, petty bullying

Par Beryl Wajsman le 19 août 2012

So now Pauline Marois wants to extend Bill 101 to small businesses as well. Why not, Quebec has so much extra money to spend on more social engineering inspectors. And of course we need more constriction of entrepreneurs’ ability to function so we can lose more jobs.

The timing of her announcement is so totally incomprehensible that reasonable people may rightly accuse her of the worst kind of demagoguery and demonizing politics. Implicit in her statement is the old saw that Francophones can’t be served in French. Yet just this year the OQLF itself released a report that in 97% of business establishments in the centre city, French service was not a problem. The OQLF’s figures for the West Island put French availability at 93%. There is no issue here.

The only issue is that Marois is trying to get votes through the old politics of division and discord. 

Both the Fraser Institute and the Centre for Alternative Policy, two think tanks from opposite ends of the political spectrum, have released reports in the past several years demonstrating that the average Canadian small business spends 19 full working days a year dealing with government forms and compliance. In Quebec, the figure averages 21 days. So this is just what our sluggish economy needs. More government inspectors. More government forms. This is really sending out a message to investors that Quebec is open for business.

But that’s economics. What about the human level. What can Marois want from the corner depanneur where a family works together. They may speak Korean or Portuguese or Italian or Greek or English or…French. How is that the state’s business? How does anyone running for public office justify spending our tax dollars on another tsunami of regulation, inspection and fines? Does Marois really think that people working an average of 18 hours a day are a threat to the French language? Obviously they will serve customers in any language because they want to make a living.

This is about as narrow, retrograde and mean-spirited an idea since the suggestion was put forward a while back that Quebec should have monitors in schools so that children would be sure to speak French during recess and playtime. Some six months ago UNESCO named France and its culture a “heritage of humanity.” The only nation and culture so named. But the heritage this is celebrated is not about the politics of nullification and interposition of “les autres.” It is the heritage of beauty, music, literature and justice. The heroic ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire that have been clarion calls for freedom for centuries. It is not the heritage of “culture, my culture” whatever the human cost. 

A story was brought to our attention that may or may not be apocryphal. It concerned an OQLF officer who was trying to convince a small business to francisize even though it was exempt. The officer tried to convince the owner that Quebec would even pay for French keyboards. The owner allegedly asked the officer one question that demonstrated how banal the suggestion was. He said to the officer that his mother worked in the business but her written French was not good. So he wanted to know what good it would do to send her emails in French that she may or may not understand. The OQLF officer left.

Just as that officer left, it is to be hoped that all the Lilliputians like Marois leave the stage of Quebec history. No matter how many vote for her politics of the lowest common denominator, it will never make her right. Quebec has a heritage too. And the Marois’ of this world will be replaced by the trustees of Papineau and Lafontaine, Cartier, Laurier and Trudeau. They will be replaced by the standard-bearers of light, not the defenders of darkness.

After the ludicrous CSST decision not to communicate with employers in English – putting workers’ safety at risk – and Marois’ suggestion, it is time to confront a hard and inconvenient truth. With almost 40% of individual revenues collected by Revenue Quebec coming from the 21% of Quebecers who are non-Francophones, it is time to ask, in Sheila Fraser's words, where is our "value for money?" The answer sadly is that we have none. Instead, we are victimized by marginalization. The Americans had a revolution over "no taxation without representation." In Quebec it could be "no taxation without comprehension." All people, no matter how put upon, have a breaking point.