Allison Hanes: Language, a fault line in the debate over mayor of Montreal


Candidates Valérie Plante, Denis Coderre and Balarama Holness had the chance to explain themselves directly to English-speaking Montrealers.

Content of the article

The Montreal mayoral debate in English is usually little more than an opportunity for candidates to rehearse all of their campaign pledges in English for an English-speaking audience.


Content of the article

Typically, the topics covered are similar to those of the French debate with perhaps a nod to the need for more services in English here and recognition of the contributions of the English-speaking population of Montreal there.

Rarely – at least in recent memory – has the language itself been a fault line in Montreal municipal politics.

But due to the tabling of Bill 96, the new law proposed by Quebec to strengthen French, the language was the elephant in the room while the leader of Ensemble Montreal Denis Coderre, the leader of Projet Montreal Valérie Plante and Montreal Movement leader Balarama Holness clashed at the Leonardo Di Center Vinci in St-Léonard, for the first and only English debate of the 2021 campaign.

Bill 96 has destabilized Anglophones as well as other minority groups, who are concerned about their constitutional rights and access to public services.


Content of the article

Plante and Coderre both say they support the legislation. Holness, is the only candidate who opposes Bill 96. On top of that, he calls for a referendum to consult Montrealers on the search for bilingual status for the city – which may be heresy in French-speaking Quebec, but served him well as a wedge problem to differentiate him from his rivals.

Bill 96 took just under four minutes of the 1.5-hour debate, which also touched on issues ranging from gun violence and climate change to public transportation. But it was an opportunity for the candidates to explain themselves directly to English-speaking Montrealers.

When the question of language arose, Coderre read a statement.

“Let’s be clear, Montreal is a French-speaking city, made up of a diverse cultural mosaic, including a dynamic English-speaking community,” said the former mayor who was ousted in 2017. “They all deserve to have services and we will provide them. for them.”


Content of the article

There was no mention that Coderre had ousted Joe Ortona, president of the English Montreal School Board, as his party’s star candidate in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district of Loyola, because of the position of the school board against Bill 96.

Plante spoke in favor of Bill 96 and the need to protect French in Montreal, thus cementing the city’s status as the only French-speaking metropolis in North America.

“I understand that some people are worried about how they will be recognized, their rights, their contributions to this city,” she said. “I support Bill 96. But I went into committee, during my campaign, to promote and share my thoughts and our expectation here in Montreal to have 311 on the exclusion list, because we want to make sure. that all Montrealers, whatever language they speak, whoever they are, they need the services they deserve.


Content of the article

Holness, on the other hand, has done everything to recognize the realities of this diverse city and ensure that English speakers, allophones and other minorities feel seen.

“We want to recognize Montreal for what it is: a multicultural and multilingual metropolis,” he said. “I am the only candidate on this stage to support this ideology and reject Bills 21 and 96. We will not enforce this law in any way.”

The rest of the debate proceeded as usual, with Coderre and Holness appearing oddly friendly and sometimes teaming up to put Plante on the defensive on issues such as reducing congestion, road safety and housing affordability.

While Plante and Coderre deserve credit for refusing to simply tell Anglophones in Montreal what they want to hear, their positions let Holness champion those who feel uncomfortable or left out.


Content of the article

According to Secretariat for relations with expressive Quebecers English, 56 percent of the approximately one million English speakers in the province live on the Island of Montreal itself and represent 32 percent of its total population. Although they are scattered throughout the city (and among neighboring municipalities that are not part of Montreal), it is a sizeable proportion of the electorate.

And those numbers don’t even take allophones into account – those whose first language is neither English nor French, but who probably speak one or both of those languages. About 30 percent of Montreal’s population comes from various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

None of these voting blocks is of course monolithic. But Montrealers have overlapping linguistic, cultural and racial identities.

Holness himself embodies this demographic reality.

What remains to be seen is how much importance anglophone and allophone voters will place on language at the ballot box on November 7 – and how their opinion will affect the outcome.

[email protected]

  1. Bill 96 does not specify who belongs to the Quebec nation, says Marlene Jennings, president of the QCGN.

    Hanes: The devil is in the details of Bill 96 – and they’re alarming

  2. If elected mayor, Balarama Holness says he would consult with Montrealers on whether a referendum should be held on the city's linguistic status.  Bad idea, writes Lise Ravary.

    Lise Ravary: A referendum on the linguistic status of Montreal? No thanks



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour of moderation before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread that you follow, or if a user that you follow comments. Visit our Community rules for more information and details on how to adjust your E-mail The settings.


Leave A Reply