This post is not about a language debate, it’s solely for information purpose. As a municipal councillor, we represent all residents living in Saint-Lazare, so it’s important to listen to their concerns. When I ran a survey on Facebook last July regarding topics residents were concerned about, the main topic (after halting housing development) was to submit a request for Saint-Lazare to become officially a bilingual city.

Because this topic was obviously a concern for a lot of our residents, I thought it would be a good idea to bring up some points to inform people on the subject.

 

History

After a noticed received from the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF) in 2003, the language authorities forced St-Lazare to remove the English-language “welcome” on the bilingual roadside signs posted at all entrances of the town. The town complied with this request some years later.

As well in 2012 after another anonymous complaint to the OQLF, (although the town was not officially bilingual, all municipal communication was bilingual at that time) the town of Saint-Lazare had to change their way of communicating with its citizens in order to respect the French language laws. Here is the OQLF main guidelines the municipality needs to follow (in French) https://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/francisation/admin_publ/aide-memoire-municipal.pdf

In 2015, Mayor Grimaudo vowed language neutrality would be used on welcome signs. (https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/off-island-gazette/st-lazare-mayor-vows-language-neutrality-on-welcome-signs).

“Residents will be consulted about the new signs and a decision will be made in the spring.” town Mayor Robert Grimaudo told Global News on November 24, 2015.

The law

According to the law, French is the official language of municipalities in Quebec.

In the Charte de la Langue Française (article 22):
The Administration uses only French in signage, except when health or public safety also requires the use of another language.
In the case of road signs, the French text may be supplemented or replaced by symbols or pictograms and another language may be used when there is no symbol or pictogram that can meet health or public safety requirements.

In the Charte de la Langue Française (Article 29.1):
It recognizes that a municipality is bilingual when more than half of the residents of its territory are of English mother tongue.

 

Saint-Lazare Census 2016

Statistics Canada conducts a national census of population every five years. The data used to figure out if a municipality can apply for the bilingual status is the “mother tongue” ratio. Mother tongue is the language that a person has been exposed to from birth.

The last census which was conducted in 2016, Saint-Lazare had a total population of 19,885 (under the mother tongue label). Out of that, 7,170 people declared their mother tongue as English and 10, 445 as French. The balance fell under “other”. In order to have the bilingual status, only French and English are considered and the “other” languages are not calculated. This means that the ratio for English mother tongue in 2016 was 36.1% versus French which was at 52.5%. This was far from the 51% needed to be declared a bilingual city.

 

How about those welcome signs?

I’m not sure what happened to this proposed initiative by the mayor with the last sitting council, but the welcome signs still have the English words crossed off in black. The mayor has never proposed anything or made this a priority with us.
During budget time, this current council had a city signage project proposed to us by the administration which would have included electronic billboards and several different options. At the time, the majority of the council didn’t agree with the cost of the proposed project and didn’t feel that it was a priority to invest such a big amount into road signs and signs for municipal buildings. The language issue was not the motivating factor for this proposed project but rather, it was about updating all signs on our territory.

Personally, I would like to see the welcome signs for the entrances of the town turned into a citizen project where we would ask our residents to submit ideas which would be representative of the identity of the town. But this entire project needs to go back to the drawing board in my opinion, with also a more reasonable budget.

Going forward

The next Canadian census is in 2021, but will Saint-Lazare be any closer to the ratio needed to be declared a bilingual city? The provincial decree of population in December 2019 showed that our population had grown to 21, 250. By the next census, we should see more growth in population. My guess is that the English population has grown, but it’s difficult to estimate if we’ll be anywhere close to 51%. People’s declaration of mother tongue will be the deciding factor.
Understandably, some of the English community may find this frustrating but although we are not officially a bilingual city, I think that it is fair to say that language in Saint-Lazare is not generally an issue when it comes to communicating between citizens. The issue which is raised by the English community is that they would like to get equal treatment when it comes to access of information and services by the municipality as it was before.

When the new census numbers are out, we will be able to see if we are meeting the qualifications to become a bilingual city. This is not something the elected officials can change, it’s a provincial law.