New measures on French-language business signs continue to cause concern in Quebec

New measures on French-language business signs continue to cause concern in Quebec

Representatives of the Quebec business community are criticizing the measures introduced by the Legault government to protect French.

In an open letter sent Saturday to several newspapers, economic organizations, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), the Conseil du Patronat du Québec (CPQ), the Quebec Hardware and Building Supply Association, Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Chambers of Commerce of Quebec have asked the Legault government to review its position on this issue.

In the signatories’ view, the French-language rules would force businesses to make changes that would often be difficult to put in place within two weeks.

The authors of the letter point out that “the government had promised a three-year deadline for the implementation of rules which, to date, have still not been adopted.”

While Bill 96 was finally passed in 2022, some of the measures concerning businesses were only tabled in January this year.

“We can’t make any changes until we have the rules,” said Michel Rochette, president of the Quebec chapter of the RCC.

The deadline for compliance with Quebec’s new regulations is June 1, 2025.

On that date, any mention of “on/off” on a button would be banned under the provisions of Bill 96, as would “play” on any player and many other words that were not yet subject to the French rule, because they did not relate to the safe use of a product.

The logistical challenge of the adaptation period is a real concern for the signatories of Saturday’s open letter.

But the problem is broader.

According to Rochette, outdoor advertising will also turn into a logistical nightmare.

“Quebec businesses already went through an entire transformation, which was completed barely five years ago, of all outdoor signage for businesses,” said Rochette. “Now, the regulations tell us that we have to go through a new phase of change. So, all the signs that have been modified will have to be redesigned, in an even shorter timeframe.”

Rochette points out that signage is also subject to constraints set by municipalities and building owners.

“Some cases are likely to be complex, if not impossible,” he said.

Online shopping

The signatories of the open letter are worried that if consumers can no longer find the product that interests them at a local retailer, they may turn online shopping and buy what they need from non-Quebec websites.

These sites won’t have to comply with French-language signage rules.

“We calculate that, unfortunately, Quebecers will also have to pay the price,” explained Rochette. “And the French language is likely to be affected, because if we take Quebecers to sites outside Quebec that don’t comply with the same rules, French will certainly not be better protected.”

According to the open letter, supply capacity will be a problem because if a product cannot comply with the province’s rules, retailers will have no choice but to withdraw it.

“In a world that is becoming more and more international and wide ranging, where supply chains are highly interconnected with the whole planet and suppliers are just about everywhere in the world. Sometimes, it becomes a little more complicated to impose constraints without delay,” explained Rochette. “Why should we limit supply if it’s just for a button?”

Shared fears

Quebec saw this as an opportunity to develop partnerships with other suppliers, whether French-speaking or other who are open to adapting to the Quebec market.

“Quebec is an advanced society and an important and lucrative market,” said French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge in a press release at the end of February. “If certain companies do not want to do business in Quebec to avoid translating the indications on their products, if they refuse to speak to Quebecers in French, we are convinced that their competitors will take advantage of these opportunities to the benefit of Quebecers.”

However, the RCC and its allies are not as optimistic as the Minister.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative reported that numerous companies south of the border, mainly small and medium-sized businesses, raised concerns about adapting to the French-language requirements and risk of losing customers.

“For the past year and a half, we’ve been contacted almost every day with questions, especially by small and medium-sized businesses. (…) We’re faced with a lot of incomprehension, to be honest, and surprise, when it comes to criteria that seem ultra-demanding to them,” said Fasken intellectual property lawyer Eliane Ellbogen.

On Feb. 24, the RCC submitted a brief to Quebec, for which it has yet to receive any feedback. “There’s not much we can do now other than keep in touch,” said Rochette.

Roberge held a press conference on March 22, that he would take comments on the bill into account to ensure “regulations are properly applied, and ideally all the services currently available remain available.”

Later, he doubled down by insisting on that Quebecers have the right to be greeted in French, to be served in French, to have objects labelled in French so that we can understand what we are buying, so that we know what is in the products.

“I think this is non-negotiable”, he said.

The Ministry of the French Language did not respond to our requests for comment.

–This report by La Presse Canadienne was translated by CityNews

Related Articles