Speaking French is now 'non issue'

November 3, 1995

A narrow non-vote against Quebec separatism means that plans for French-language fluency to become a university entrance requirement are likely to be further postponed.

This week's referendum, where the federalist forces won by a slim margin of less than 1 per cent, left some of the province's academics from English-speaking universities wondering to what extent the mastery of French will be expected of prospective students by the separatist government. Since its first mandate in 1976, the Parti Quebecois has enacted laws to try to protect the French language and has tightened access to English primary and high schools.

Before the party was voted into power last year, the party's agenda said that students seeking university entrance would need first to master French, leading to criticism from the three English-language universities.

"When we saw that, of course, we asked for clarification," said Francois Tavenas, McGill University's vice principal of planning and resources, who also acts as liaison officer with the government. He wanted to know whether this election promise meant measures beyond the French proficiency requirement already demanded of francophone students graduating from CEGEP, Quebec's junior colleges.

Anglophone students have never been asked to show proficiency in French to attend an anglophone university.

Des Idees pour mon Pays, the Parti's 1994 programme, said that the government will take measures to "establish the full mastery of French as a necessary criterion for admission to university". The passage is not to be found in the chapter dedicated to education but is tucked inside a section dealing with the party's views on the pre-eminence of the French language.

Mr Tavenas, who agrees with the idea of having a fair degree of proficiency in both languages but not making it law, says he was assured by the minister's office last year that the line was an oversight.

"It's a non-issue right now," he said, pointing out that the subject has not been raised since last year and never came up earlier this year when the Estates General on Education, a province-wide roving inquiry into Quebec's education system, came to Montreal.

Simon Begin, press attache for education minister Jean Garon, confirms that the plan to increase French proficiency is "in force". He says only francophone students will continue to be affected.

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