Business community denounces Quebec’s latest French rules in open letter

“We calculate that Quebecers … will unfortunately pay the price.”

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Representatives of Quebec’s business community are denouncing some of the measures put in place by the provincial government to protect the French language.

In an open letter on Saturday, economic organizations including the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the Quebec Hardware and Building Supply Association, Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec asked the Legault government to reconsider its position on the issue.

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In the signatories’ view, new measures for French-language commercial signage would force companies to make adjustments that would often be difficult to implement within a short time frame. The letter’s authors wrote that “the government had promised a three-year deadline for the implementation of rules that, to date, have still not been adopted.”

While Bill 96 was passed in 2022, some of the measures concerning businesses were only tabled in January. Their final version has yet to be adopted.

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

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

At that point, any “on/off” label on a button would be outlawed under the provisions of Bill 96, as would “play” and similar English words commonly found on appliances. For the signatories of the open letter, the logistical implications of these rules are a real concern — but the problem is even broader.

Rochette said outdoor advertising will also become a logistical nightmare.

“Quebec businesses had already gone through an entire transformation, which was complete barely five years ago, of all commercial outdoor signage,” he said. “Now, the regulations tell us that we have to go through a new phase of change. So all signs that have been modified will have to be remodelled in an even shorter time frame.” He stressed that signage is also subject to constraints determined by municipalities and building owners.

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

The threat of online shopping

The signatories of the open letter worry that consumers who can no longer find the product they’re interested in at local retailers will turn to e-commerce instead, buying from sites that don’t have to comply with the new rules.

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

Supply is another issue, the authors claim: If a product can’t comply with the province’s rules, retailers will have no choice but to withdraw it from sale.

“In an increasingly internationalized world, 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 set constraints without delay,” said Rochette.

A large number of products are likely to be withdrawn from sale, limiting supply at local retailers, he predicted.

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Shared concerns

In the provincial government’s view, these measures are an opportunity to develop partnerships with other suppliers, whether they’re French-speaking or simply open to adapting to the Quebec market.

“Quebec is an advanced society and an important, lucrative market. If some companies don’t want to do business in Quebec because they don’t want to translate 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,” argued French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge in a statement at the end of February.

The RCC and its allies are not as optimistic as the minister, and their arguments are bolstered by the U.S. reaction to the new regulations.

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative has reported numerous concerns, mainly among small and medium-size businesses that may have more difficulty adapting to the Quebec standard.

“For the past year and a half, we’ve been contacted almost every day with questions, especially by small and medium-size companies,” Eliane Ellbogen, an intellectual property lawyer with the Montreal firm Fasken, told The Canadian Press in January. “We’re faced with a lot of incomprehension, frankly, and surprise, in relation to criteria that seem ultra-demanding to them.”

It’s with these same concerns in mind that the signatories of Saturday’s letter call on the government to consult with business organizations to preserve the “economic health of businesses and the well-being of Quebecers.” On Feb. 24, the RCC submitted a brief to Quebec City, but has yet to receive any feedback.

“We can’t do much more than keep in touch,” said Rochette.

Roberge appears to be open to dialogue. During a media scrum on March 22, he said he would take comments about the bill into account.

The French Language Ministry did not respond to a request from The Canadian Press for comment.

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