Quebec tech companies warn that a new language law could hurt recruitment and hurt the economy

Executives from dozens of Quebec-based tech companies are warning Premier Francois Legault that the province’s new language law, known as Bill 96, will make it difficult to recruit talent and threatens to cause “huge damage to the province’s economy”.

Bill 96 was passed last month and aims to strengthen Quebec’s language laws, with new and expanded rules for businesses, tougher penalties for violations, and limits on accessing certain government services in English.

Part of the law states that immigrants who have been in Quebec for six months or more will only be able to access most government services in French.

In a letter released Tuesday, more than 30 executives called on Legault and the province to delay the implementation of Bill 96 until there is better French-language support, such as tutoring, available for workers. .

“We have team members who come from South America, who come from Europe. We need to give them more time and more support,” said Lloyd Segal, president and CEO of Repare Therapeutics. , a Montreal-based biotechnology company developing cancer drugs, and one of the letter’s signatories.

“These phenomenal researchers who love coming to Quebec — and everything about coming to Quebec. They can go anywhere and we don’t want to lose them.”

Repare Therapeutics’ Montreal lab develops cancer drugs, but the company’s CEO fears the province’s new language laws will make it harder to recruit workers. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Until now, some of the provincial French language requirements for businesses only applied to businesses with more than 50 employees. But under Bill 96, these rules will also apply to small businesses with more than 25 employees.

Repare has more than 50 employees, so it was already subject to French requirements since its beginnings in Quebec six years ago.

The problem now, Segal said, is that the new law could make his business less attractive to the talent it needs, noting that Repare is already competing with companies around the world in the face of labor shortages. in the technology sector.

WATCH | The head of the Canadian Council of Innovators explains the calls to delay Bill 96:

Tech companies say Bill 96 could hurt Quebec’s economy

The head of the Canadian Council of Innovators explains why dozens of Quebec tech companies signed a letter asking the province to delay implementing its updated language law.

Benjamin Bergen is the president of the Council of Canadian Innovators, the organization behind the letter. He recognizes the importance of protecting Quebec’s culture, but said the law was hastily prepared and will make it more difficult for national companies to grow.

“You’re actually damaging your own culture and your own economy,” Bergen said.

“Duty to protect our common language”

Legault said strengthening the province’s language laws is a matter of survival when it comes to the French language in Quebec.

“We are proud to be a French-speaking nation in North America and it is our duty to protect our common language,” he said in May when Bill 96 was passed.

His government of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) declared that the law will not be applied for a yearas the province works to establish a new French language ministry to develop language policies for the public service, municipalities and government agencies.

In a statement, the minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, said the government will put tools in place to support new immigrants and help them learn French.

Several parts of the legislation will affect businesses and many companies are now seeking guidance on how to comply, said Brittany Carson, labor and employment law partner at Montreal firm Lavery.

For example, companies with more than 25 employees will have to ensure that the use of French is generalized in the workplace, a requirement that previously only applied to large companies with more than 50 employees.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, introduced here in the Quebec Legislative Assembly on Friday, said Bill 96 is necessary to protect the French language. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec Office of the French Language, or OQLF, which enforces the French Language Charter, will ensure communication with staff, training materials, policies and contracts are all in French, Carson said.

“What does that mean for the person sitting in New York, managing employees here in Quebec? Obviously the Charter is not going to require them to speak French,” she said.

“I think companies are going to have to start thinking about how to ensure that they respect the fundamental right of their Quebec employees to work in French.

Although she answered many questions from customers, Carson said she hadn’t heard from anyone considering leaving Quebec because of the stricter rules, in part because many large companies were already subject to the rules of the province’s French language for decades.

Montreal International, the city’s economic promotion agency, said it has received an influx of calls from investors about Bill 96, with questions and concerns about immigration and French language requirements for employees.

But Stephane Paquet, the agency’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that he doesn’t expect the debate around the new law to scare away talent.

“Investors consider several factors when evaluating their options for investing in a city, including the current economic climate and the existing ecosystem,” he said, adding that the agency’s recruitment activities currently mainly target French-speaking talent pools.

For his part, Segal said he hopes the Quebec government will help companies comply and resolve uncertainty about how the law will be enforced and enforced. He has no intention of moving his business outside of Quebec, but fears that other businesses will be deterred from setting up here.

“As one of the builders of our biotech community here in Montreal, I am deeply concerned that, without more certainty, we will almost certainly lose new companies being created.”

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