The bill seeks the support of the House for an amendment to the Canadian Multiculturalism Act to provide that it does not apply in Quebec. Bill C-226 states that Quebecers form a nation and therefore possess all the tools needed to define their identity and protect their common values, including as regards the protection of the French language, the separation of state and religion and gender equality. The bill also implies that observing Canada’s version of multiculturalism would now allow for compliance with these three basic principles, and that therefore this federal law should not apply in Quebec.
Since the Canada’s multiculturalism policy was introduced in 1971, many Quebec political scientists and then several premiers have asserted that the federal multiculturalism policy is unsuited to the majority francophone province and that there could be no dissociation between culture and language in Quebec. The enactment of the Charter of the French Language, or Bill 101, in 1977 crystallized the differences between the Canadian and Quebec models. According to some, Canada’s concept of citizenship, which is multicultural, bilingual and open to other heritage immigrant languages, conflicts with the protection of the French language in Quebec and interculturalism.
Clearly, Quebec’s vision of society involves the protection of the French language and culture. More than that, it recognizes that Quebec society constitutes a unique cultural and linguistic minority, often described as endangered in North America. For many francophones in Quebec, Bill 101 addressed the concern that the absence of a strong language law asserting the primacy of French would lead newcomers to choose to integrate into the more attractive anglophone community because of its demographic weight and to preserve their identity. Quebec nationalism owes much to this fear of decline. For many francophones in Quebec, the promotion of cultural equality proposed in multiculturalism would diminish the importance of French and English contributions to the Canadian Confederation and undermine the development of the francophonie in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
It must be said that Quebec nationalism was greatly strengthened by the statement made in the House by prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1971 when he introduced the policy of multiculturalism, specifically giving immigrants the choice to learn either official language and fully integrate into Canadian society. For a majority of Quebeckers, this free choice was incompatible with the cultural and linguistic specificity of Quebec.
This situation was corrected in 1978 under the Cullen-Couture agreement, when the Government of Canada granted Quebec the responsibility of choosing its economic immigrants, giving the province an additional tool for integrating newcomers and protecting francophone culture. In 1981, with the large influx of immigrants, the Government of Quebec proposed a policy of cultural convergence entitled “Autant de façons d’être Québécois” or “Québécois – Each and Every One”. Its principal objective was to “ensure the maintenance and development of cultural communities and their specificities, make French-speaking Quebecers aware of the contribution of cultural communities to our common heritage and finally promote the integration of cultural communities in Quebec society and especially in sectors where they are particularly underrepresented”.
Several researchers and analysts pointed out that the Government of Quebec's program policies that have been developed since the 1980s to promote the development of the province's ethno-cultural communities are an awful lot like multiculturalism in a francophone context and therefore similar to what the federal government itself had proposed 10 years earlier in 1971.
In 1988, the preamble of the Multiculturalism Act reiterated the primacy of human rights and gender equality and the importance of fighting all forms of racial discrimination.
The act reasserts the country's official bilingualism, which has been governed by the Official Languages Act since 1969, by emphasizing the importance of expanding the use of official languages to ensure their development.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act also reaffirms freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, freedoms that cannot be violated. This interpretation of religious pluralism has led many experts to conclude that this system de facto supported the separation of church and state.
In many ways, Bill C-226 and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act are based on similar parameters, which must be enhanced and promoted. That is also the view of the authors of the Bouchard-Taylor commission's 2007-08 final report on reasonable accommodation in Quebec. They said that this truncated version of multiculturalism was essentially a caricature and it may have led its critics in Quebec to conclude that Canada's multicultural model had not evolved in Canada since its adoption and that it was incompatible with the Quebec model.
The authors of the report state that in Quebec “multiculturalism is presented as though it solely takes into account recognition and affirmation of difference with no regard for integrating elements such as the teaching of national languages and intercultural exchange programs.”
Canadian multiculturalism is obviously not a model that is immutable and fixed in time. Its flexibility allows not only for the integration and enhancement of the common values and founding principles of Canadian society, such as official bilingualism, human rights and the principle of reasonable accommodation, but also for the development of programs and tools adapted to the new realities of Canadian society.
In the most recent Speech from the Throne, the government defined the Canada of today and tomorrow, and in articulated the main Canadian values of reconciliation, the fight against systemic racism, the protection of official languages, the welcoming of immigrants and the strategic positioning of Canada in the world. In that text, the government also recognized the particular situation of French in the country and its intention to protect and promote French, not only outside Quebec, but also in Quebec.
This is a strong commitment by the federal government. These overall values and objectives also find a prominent place in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. A multicultural Canada is not incompatible with the future of a French-speaking Quebec and the flexibility of the laws that govern our country also allow Quebec to flourish.