Updated Language Laws in Quebec Could Deter Retailers from Entering the Province While Others May Leave [Interview] 


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As the new language bill, Bill 96, in Quebec is active, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the retail landscape. Éric Blais, the President of Headspace Marketing, explains his thoughts on the bill, how it will affect retailers, and what it will mean for brands who want to enter into the Quebec market. 

“Bill 96 is not a new law, it is a long overdue update of Bill 101 which was the first language law in the late 70s to make French the official language of Quebec and to create laws and regulations around it. What Bill 96 does, is it revisits certain sections of that law and strengthens it. It is a law that goes further in making French the language of business, of contracts, retail, education, and more,” says Blais. 

Éric Blais

So how will this impact retailers? Blais says brands have until 2025 to make changes and if they don’t – they could possibly face fines. Businesses do not just need to adjust signage, but they will need to change their POS systems, hiring policies, job postings, packaging, and all HR documents if they do not already have it available in French – costing retailers more money to adjust to Bill 96. 

“So you can see here that it is about operating in French and it is so much more than packaging and signs. That is a huge cost and a huge investment for anyone thinking about expanding into the Quebec market.” 

Retail Signage 

The Bay at 585 Saint-Catherine St W in Montreal (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Blais says the bill will force brands to make massive changes. Bill 101 required retailers to ensure that there is a sufficient presence of French in exterior signage, meaning if you had a registered trademark in French. If a company did not have a French trademark the brand must include an additional descriptor. 

“For example Burger King. There is no French version, but if you stroll down Ste-Catharine street and you see Burger King on the corner, you will see Le Restaurant, Burger King. That would be, prior to Bill 96, a sufficient presence of French because they have added Le Restaurant in a font that is half the size of Burger King. That is how the law, until Bill 96, allowed retailers to use their trademarks in English.” 

With Bill 96, Blais said it will change from retailers needing a sufficient presence of French to the predominance of French, and wants to encourage anybody who needs guidance with the new law to navigate the implications of Bill 96 with a lawyer. And although the bill was passed on June 1st 2022, the enforcement of public signage will not be enforced until June 2025 which will give retailers more time to adjust to the changes. 

The Unknown of Bill 96 

Now if Burger King increases the sign of Le Restaurant to be as big as Burger King – will that be enough to show predominance of French? 

“I don’t know, nobody seems to know. So it is a big question mark and as you could imagine a big question mark that probably makes a lot of retailers crash their heads in terms of how many locations they have, what signage will be needed, and so on. So that is a big unknown, the application of Bill 96 as it relates to commercial signage.” 

Blais said there is also uncertainty of what the new law means for signage that is visible from the street. Could the sign, such as Burger King or Mastermind, be in English if they don’t have a French trademark and have a massive permanent signage with their slogan in French on the windows instead? Blais said from his interpretation of Bill 96, that would count as a predominance of French. “Is it possible that we could end up with permanent signage with brands in English because they don’t have a French version?” Blais said we will know more in 2025 what the new bill will look like for retailers, and the law is much bigger than retail signage as it also affects everything else as well, such as packaging and labels. 

Hesitation of Entering into the Quebec Market?

Image: Dollarama

“If there was a hesitation from a retailer of moving into the Quebec market, you have just added another variable into the mix.”

Blais said if retailers, such as Dollarama, and even though the company is based in Montreal and you need to comply with Bill 96 or face penalties – do you open your target amount of stores in 2023 in Quebec, or do you decide to pivot your plan and expand into other markets in Canada? 

 “This is the real question retailers are going to be asking themselves. I wouldn’t say Quebec is doomed and no retailer will go there, I don’t mean that at all and I think there are some national and international players who recognize the great potential in the Quebec market. However, if retailers who are there already and are already struggling this law will make it more difficult to operate – and they will pack up.”

Retailers who do need to pack up could possibly be leaving because of Bill 96, but Blais said they could also be packing up because they walked into Quebec thinking they could succeed without reading the market correctly. Retailers who are successful in Quebec, or want to be, need to choose to invest catering into the Quebec market and use the language. 

“I don’t think you are about to see a movement of just packing up and leaving Quebec as a result of the law, I suspect you will see more reluctant retailers who are rethinking their decision to enter the Quebec market. But I hope that businesses outweigh whatever regulations, barriers, and related costs are to the new law because if you are in Canada, this is one quarter of the country – and you can’t ignore it.” 

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Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala, based in Toronto, is a new Journalist to Retail Insider. She has experience writing for local newspapers and also internationally for Helsinki Times while she lived in Finland. Shelby holds a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree from the University of King’s College and a Social Work degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.


  1. Québec has 8 millions customers wanting to buy. Also, the current government is business oriented, this language law addendum won’t be a problem. I strongly disagree with Mr Blais.

  2. Open your eyes M. Paquin and you’ll realize why so many professionals and retailers leave or stay away from QC. If 8 million consumers are not enough to convince retailers to open up in QC, maybe the QC government should think again and maybe they’ll realize what makes QC unique is precisely the reason why they are very happy with the 380 million consumers in the US plus the 30 million in the rest of Canada. If they can service over 400 million consumers, do you really think they give a damn about 8 million? QC’s language rules and regulations are simply not worth the hassle.
    Get with it M. Paquin and realize the world doesn’t care if QC is on board or not. Just ask anyone from Gen Z and you’ll realize how shortsighted all the language bills really are. They are killing QC, not helping it as you seem to think.

  3. in gulf everyone know that there is everywhere officially Arbic language but with arabic they used english for english speakers. so i thing same as gulf quebec can use same format in province so more businesses and brands will come to quebec.


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