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Piquette Affair

It was April 7, 1987 and Alberta New Democrat Party (NDP) MLA Leo Piquette posed his question to the Alberta Legislature. Twice he asked, and twice he was denied. Not because his question wasn’t valid—but because it was in French.

Speaker David Carter, informed Piquette that if he did not speak in English, he would forfeit his right to ask his question. According to Piquette, the first francophone (A French-speaking person) MLA in almost a decade, politicians were allowed to speak French. After all, section 110 of the North West Territories Act allowed French to be spoken in the Legislatures of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The standing committee on privileges and elections determined that Piquette did in fact have the right to speak in French. This made the Legislature quickly change its policy in November of that same year. According to the new revisions, English would from then on be the working language of the Legislature, but the use of other languages would be allowed if the Speaker approves. French would receive no special treatment.

Despite support from Prime Minister Mulroney and the leaders of Alberta’s NDP and Liberal parties, Piquette eventually agreed. However, his actions sparked a constitutional debate that would go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and incited nationwide discussion regarding the role of French in Canadian politics.

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