Quebec Enforces New French Language Regulations for Business Signage and Product Labels

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The Quebec government has announced the implementation of new language regulations requiring all commercial business signs, excluding the company name, to be predominantly in French by June 2025. This move is part of the government’s ongoing effort to protect and promote Quebec’s official language.

Key Highlights:

French Signage Requirement: Starting in June 2025, businesses in Quebec must ensure that French text occupies at least twice as much space as any other language on their storefronts. This regulation is designed to emphasize Quebec’s French heritage and ensure that consumers are informed and served in French. “Our objective is clear: to ensure that the French landscape of Quebec is clearly predominant in commercial signage,” said Jean-François Roberge, Minister of the French Language.

Postponed Appliance Marking Rules: The new regulations also initially required appliance manufacturers to add French to engraved markings on products such as ovens, coffee makers, and washing machines. However, this requirement has been postponed to avoid disruptions in the supply chain. “That’s to come later. We’re continuing the analysis,” said a spokesperson for Roberge’s office.

Cost of Compliance: The Quebec government estimates that compliance will cost businesses between $7 million and $15 million. However, experts and business leaders contest this estimate, suggesting the costs could be significantly higher. “Certain companies, without naming them, have calculated that the regulatory changes will cost them between $20 and $25 million. And that’s just for one,” said Michel Rochette, president of the Retail Council of Canada’s Quebec chapter.

Implementation Timeline: The regulations, published in the province’s Official Gazette on Wednesday, remain largely unchanged from the draft published in January. Businesses have one year to comply with the new signage rules.

Enforcement and Penalties: The updated Charter of the French Language came into effect on Wednesday and will be enforced starting next year, with fines ranging from $700 to $30,000 for non-compliance. Quebec’s French language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), will have increased resources to enforce these rules and assist businesses in complying.

Impact on Labelling: The regulations will also require French on product labels as originally planned, though appliances are currently exempt. Future requirements will mandate French text for functions on appliances such as “bake,” “rinse,” or “temperature.”

Business Leaders’ Reactions:

Michel Rochette: President of the Retail Council of Canada’s Quebec chapter, highlighted significant compliance costs for certain brands and called for a three-year delay in the implementation of the new rules to allow businesses more time to adjust.

François Vincent: Vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, expressed concerns over the bureaucratic burden and potential fines for entrepreneurs. He recommends that all businesses familiarize themselves with the new rules to avoid hefty fines. “Every product that they are selling will have to have a majority of French on it, so it’s bigger than people think,” he said.

International Concerns:

U.S. Trade Implications: Earlier this month, U.S. government officials discussed the possibility of trade sanctions against Canada as a result of the new regulations. Concerns have been raised that Bill 96 could affect the availability of products throughout Canada, not just in Quebec. Officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) have debated whether the legislation contravenes trade agreements between Canada and the United States, but have not yet reached a conclusion.

Employer Opposition: Karl Blackburn, head of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, which represents the interests of employers and business leaders in Quebec, expressed satisfaction with the postponement of some labelling requirements. “I am satisfied to see that our demands have borne fruit and clearly demonstrated to the government that it was on the wrong track,” he said.

The new regulations underscore Quebec’s commitment to preserving its French heritage while balancing the practical considerations of businesses and international trade relationships. As the implementation of these rules progresses, we welcome the ongoing debate about their impact and the best path forward for all stakeholders involved.

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