Torrential language politics in the forecast for Quebec

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In Canada, an early election can be called by the leader of the ruling party, and naturally, this power is often wielded for strategic purposes. And so, Quebec premier Pauline Marois, elected to office a mere eighteen months ago, has called for a general election to be held on April 7. Marois leads the Parti Quebecois, which took power in September 2012 with a minority government, and is now gunning for a majority. This would allow the PQ to pass several controversial pieces of legislation that have met resistance by the opposition parties. One of these is Bill 14, which proposes additional restrictions on English-language education and the use of English in the workplace. Language politics are sure to be in the foreground during the election campaign, and if the PQ is re-elected with a majority, for the foreseeable future.

Quebec’s complex language issues contain enough substance to rivet the attention of language policy geeks as well as innocent bystanders, and for those of us who live or have lived in Quebec, they can be intensely emotionally resonant. The language debates raise a number of important questions, only some of which can be addressed empirically: What value is there in counteracting language loss? How can we know whether a language is truly under threat? Can the language policies of any single jurisdiction have a long-term effect on preserving a language or shifting linguistic demographics? Which individual freedoms are worth sacrificing in order to preserve a language? How much economic opportunity is worth sacrificing? Is preserving a language a necessary or sufficient condition of preserving a culture?

For those who are interested in the discussion, several radio commentaries have been recently broadcast on the language debates in Quebec:

NPR’s “All things considered” aired a brief interview with me (3/9/14) discussing the intended goals of Quebec’s language laws.

CBC’s “Ottawa morning” (2/28/14) solicited the comments of Montreal lawyer Michael Bergman on the legal reach of Quebec’s language laws into social media (the story begins at 3:15).

CBC’s “Q” presented an interview (3/11/14) with journalist Jerome Lussier about the current landscape of language politics in Quebec, and whether further language regulation would help or harm the preservation of French language and culture (the story begins at 4:40).

A point that is raised in all of the interviews is that Quebec is a heavily bilingual province, with increasing rates of bilingualism for both anglophones and francophones in Quebec over the last few decades. In fact, as revealed in a 2011 report from Statistics Canada, Quebec is by far the most bilingual province within Canada, despite the attempts of the Parti Quebecois to portray Quebec as a francophone province. Quebeckers of all language backgrounds currently have very strong incentives to learn both English and French (though about twice as many native English speakers in Quebec are proficient in French compared with the reverse). The PQ is inclined to see increasing rates of bilingualism among francophones as an ominous sign of a creeping ascendancy of English and a corresponding threat to French. But the current situation in Quebec raises the question of whether the French language in Quebec could be preserved through policies that promote sustainable bilingualism—a linguistic state that is, after all, achieved by a majority of the world’s population. What might such policies look like? It would be in the interest of all Quebeckers to have this conversation.





  1. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

    In the medium-long run, the problem for the Quebecois is that they have many fewer babies than they used to, although the provincial fertility rate has bounced back a bit and may now be slightly higher than the (well-below replacement) Canadian national average. Possible solution: aggressively promote immigration (like the rest of Canada does) but find Francophone immigrants (and/or immigrants with no prior commitments on French-v.-English who seem willing to sign up with your faction). New problem: struggles about multiculturalism/assimilation/etc. with, e.g., devout Muslim immigrants from North Africa (with good command of French), that serve as a reminder that the Quebecois ethnocultural identity Quebecois nationalism was and is about protecting and privileging wasn't and isn't solely based on language. See, e.g., (which no doubt reflects only one view on a complicated issue).

    The same problem is faced by a lot of smaller language-nationalist communities in Europe with low birth rates. If the otherwise declining population of e.g. Barcelona is going to be offset by immigration, are the incoming Romanians (or whoever) really going to want to invest energy learning Catalan instead of Spanish and/or be willing for their children to do so? If the local government pushes too hard in that regard, aren't they just going to go to Madrid instead?

  2. Lazar said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    It's funny that Quebec is more bilingual than New Brunswick, which is the only officially bilingual province.

  3. Randy McDonald said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    That's because Quebec francophones are much more bilingual than New Brunswick anglophones. Things have improved–Quebec anglophones are the most bilingual official-language population in Canada–but the "burden" of bilingualism is still disproportionately on francophones generally.

  4. Anna said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 2:04 am

    Those of us on the more heavily anglophone side of the country never seem to know what to make of the language laws and debates in Quebec. I understand that the history between the francophone and anglophone populations, particularly in the east, is more than a bit fraught (I'm an immigrant to Canada, so I'm not yet as well-versed in the history as I should be), and that some of the policy-makers' responses are coming out of a desire to protect what they have achieved. However, it seems to me that restrictive laws regarding something as important to a person's identity as the languages they use is more likely to cause resentment in the long term. Canada has a history with this; many countries have a history with this. We know that it causes problems, and we still keep making the same mistakes. I wonder how it will turn out this time.

  5. Rakau said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 2:13 am

    This is an interesting debate and i am watching and listening to see if there are any lessonsto be learnt for the benefit of the beleaguered language community of Maori, who are the indigenous inhabitants of Aotearoa New Zealand. I am bilingual. english is my first language and i am a fluent second language speaker of Te Reo Maori. About 5% of our 4 million citizens are fluently bilingual. There is virtually no one left who speaks only Maori. Although Maori is an official language we face the massive dominance of english on a daily basis. We have a Maori TV channel but only 25% of the content is Maori language. There are no Maori language newspapers, and the official status of the language is ignored by government departments except for ceremonial occasions. We, who speak Maori everyday within our families don't know what to do to counteract the dominance of english. We can't even maintain bilingualism let alone what the PQ is attempting to do in Quebec. Our children reach their teenage years and stop speaking Maori, even the ones who have been brought up from birth with Te Reo Maori as their first language. All of my 5 children are fluent speakers of Te Reo Maori but only 4 of my 10 grandchildren are. it has something to do with the status of one language against the other, the effort that goes in to speaking all of the time and actively engaging in intergenerational transfer. It is hard work! if you are busy or lazy it is even harder. I work in an english language environment. It is hard to switch from english to Maori everyday after work. We are lucky in my house. My wife is a fluent speaker of Maori. In homes where one of the parents is not a speaker of Maori it is doubly hard. I am looking for solutions, strategies, anything…

  6. GeorgeW said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 7:19 am

    Apparently, language identity politics have reached a new high (or maybe low) in Ukraine. France has not used language identity as an excuse to invade Canada.

  7. Lane said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 7:29 am

    "bilingualism [is] a linguistic state that is, after all, achieved by a majority of the world’s population."

    I've often seen this asserted, but never seen a source cited. Who has figured this out, and how? Would love to see…

    [(js) Excellent point, Lane. There should be an "allegedly" in the above sentence. I imagine that solid statistics are hard to come by for many populations and that a fair bit of inference is involved in the estimate. What I'd be especially curious about in the context of the Quebec debate is whether there are particular conditions that lend themselves to long-term bilingualism at the level of a population.]

  8. Marc Ethier said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 9:42 am

    I am a francophone Quebecer, so all of this is rather important to me. I just want to first correct a few misapprehensions. First of all, while bill 14 died when the last legislature was dissolved, the PQ is not expected to try passing it again in its current form even if they do get a majority government. This column by Michel David from Le Devoir explains the situation: It's in French, but I guess this should not be a problem for Language Loggers.

    Second, I think that PQ supporters would not object to the assertion that a good number, probably the majority, of Quebecers, are bilingual. While I am not exactly a PQ supporter, I am sympathetic to many of their ideas, and this is just a fact. Plus, I think it is a good thing that many Quebecers know French, English, and if possible more languages. But the PQ's position is that French should be the main common language of communication in Quebec. So, given that the vast majority of Quebecers speak French natively (and many more as a second language), it should be possible for one to work — except for some particular exceptions — and live — including being served by the government and private businesses — using this language. Knowledge of English, or any other language, should not be a prerequisite for participation in life in Quebec. This actually is not only the PQ's position, the other main Quebec political parties would agree with it as well (whether Language Log readers would is another question), but the PQ is perceived as the party most likely to enforce this.

  9. RP said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 10:58 am

    Marc, the article in Le Devoir seems to be subscriber-only.

  10. Julie Sedivy said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    I wasn't able to access the article you linked to Marc, but the Montreal Gazette does quote Marois as saying that revisiting Bill 14 in some form would be "a priority: if re-elected:

    Interestingly, one of the proposals the PQ seems most inclined to drop is the one that would restrict the admission of francophones and allophones to English CEGEPs (a college system that also serves as a feeder into universities).

    As you suggest, I do think it's worth distinguishing between bilingualism at an individual level versus institutional bilingualism—and it is indeed the latter that the PQ strongly opposes. I admit that there may well be an argument to be made that a good way to preserve individual bilingualism in Quebec is by adopting a strict policy of institutional monolingualism. In effect, this imposes a strong penalty for not knowing French alongside the very real penalty for all North Americans for not knowing English. Without such an imposed incentive to learn French, it's possible that the population would slowly shift to become monolingual English.

  11. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

    GeorgeW, as I understand Ukrainian demographics (and the same is true in many other erstwhile Soviet republics and indeed among the many ethnic minorities in Russia proper) there is a highly salient distinction between "Russians" as an ethnic group, and Russophones, whether people with non-Russian ethnic identity (including Ukrainian) who have Russian as either their childhood L1 or as their predominant language in adult daily life, not to mention lots of other people (including fairly hardcore Ukranian/Georgian/Latvian/what-have-you nationalists) who are quite fluent in Russian as an L2 even if they prefer to use their L1 when they can. Of course, this is an artifact of the historically dominant position of Russian – if it had been in a weaker position, being a Russophone would be a much stronger signal of being an ethnic-Russian, and there might be ethnic-Russians who had no fluency in their ancestral tongue. As I understand it, much of the present controversy over e.g. the Crimea is about the status and political preferences of ethnic-Russians who find themselves a local ethnic majority but (according to the present post-Soviet borders) a national ethnic minority, with Russophones of non-Russian ethnicity not being quite so much a hot-button.

    Historically in Quebec, French fluency (and/or preferring French to English in a given context even if functional in both) has been strongly (even if not 100%) associated with a specific ethnic identity, i.e.. being one of the "pure laine" descendants of the 16th/17th century settlers of New France, or at least descended from a mixed marriage whose offspring were fully assimilated into that ethnic identity. (By way of loose parallel, in the old USSR plenty of ethnic Ukrainians spoke fluent Russian, but comparatively few people who were not ethnic Ukrainians spoke fluent Ukrainian; non-Ukrainian ethnic groups within the Ukrainian SSR tended to prefer Russian as either their L1 or the L2 to their group-specific L1.) As I suggested above, the addition to the demographics of Quebec of an increasing number of Francophones (e.g. new immigrants from Morocco/Algeria/Haiti/wherever) who are not pure laine Quebecois in the ethnic sense but do share a common language with that group may change the dynamics of the situation in various unpredictable ways.

  12. Marc Ethier said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    Hmmm, I hadn't noticed that this Devoir article was subscriber-only. I'll try to explain what David is saying. The thing is, the PQ is a large tent party, and some of its members strongly favour toughening legislation to protect the status of French, the same way some others strongly favour pushing the issue of independence for Quebec. The leadership is typically more circumspect and has to juggle these interests with the necessities of electoral politics. David says that at the PQ congress of 2011 the party leadership managed to kill a motion to put back in the party's programme a resolution to amend the law forcing commercial signs to be in French only (which was the case at some point during the 1980s in Quebec, and caused a lot of bad blood in the rest of Canada). They realized that this wouldn't be popular with the Quebec population at this point in time. Now, at this year's congress, the leadership managed to (as Julie suggests) make the delegates drop the issue of English-language cégeps. (The English-language public school system in Quebec is typically only open to anglophones, the idea being that it's there to protect the interests of Quebec's English-language community and not to anglicize immigrants and francophones, but this is not true of the English-language public post-secondary school system which right now is open to everyone.) Once again the leadership decided that this proposition wouldn't be popular in an election campaign. Although the restriction of primary and secondary English-language public schools to anglophones only is I believe by and large popular among Quebec francophones, even if it may not be among anglophones and elsewhere in Canada.

  13. Marc Ethier said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    This said, I should mention that it's no surprise that these questions are coming out in the English-language Canadian media right now. Especially the one about commercial signage on Facebook. The law in Quebec says that commercial signage must be at least in French (it can also be in other languages), and I believe that French must actually be prevalent. The reason is as I said in my first post. But anglophones and the rest of Canada never really liked this law because to them it's a useless imposition. And the growth of social media creates new problems in this regard. There will always be somebody to file a complaint with the French Language Office when the law, as written, is violated, which is why they had to investigate in this case, but while the majority of Quebecers would agree that labels posted on food products should be available in French (heck, even anglophones would probably agree with this), or, I suppose, that restaurant menus or other important signage should be readable by French speakers, the devil is in the details and the idea that (commercial) Facebook postings, even by English-speaking business people, should be available in French, is obviously going to brush off anglophones and even a good number of francophones the wrong way.

    Now, this has nothing to do with the upcoming election. Marois is not responsible for the application of the law; this would still happen even if she were in opposition. But right now English-speakers in Canada, both inside and outside Quebec, are bracing off for an election which they consider to be extremely significant because they fear it could lead to Quebec becoming independent. Anglophones are likely to blame language issues on the PQ, so their media is blowing up these issues to prime the troops for what I gather they almost see as a manichaean battle between good and evil. This way Canadians know things are serious, they know they need to be worried and ready for a fight. But of course this completely evacuates the genuine concerns that French-speakers in Quebec may have about the status of their language (still by far the most spoken language in Quebec, but often seen by many to be "irrelevant"), and which also need to be taken into consideration if we are to solve the question. That's actually one reason I linked to Le Devoir, a Montreal-based French-language newspaper which is known for its editorial policy tending toward Quebec nationalism: one cannot understand Canadian politics by only perusing English-language sources. Things are always more complicated than we'd think. But unfortunately this sort of fell flat because Le Devoir doesn't see it fit to put its columns available for non-suscribers. Oh well, I can understand them: they're kind of an intellectual paper, not very popular and always struggling for revenue.

    Later I'd like to comment more on Julie's post, and especially on this question: "Is preserving a language a necessary or sufficient condition of preserving a culture?" I feel this touches on something many English-speakers in Canada ask themselves about French-speakers in Quebec (i.e. "Why cannot they do like the other ethnic minorities in this country?") and so it deserves an answer.

  14. Slugger said,

    March 13, 2014 @ 9:48 pm

    A swiss born native francophone tells me that one rarely hears French on the streets of Montreal, but a French derived patois is spoken there. She may be a bit of a snob, but does the PQ have a position on what constitutes French? Is it ok to speak the language of Port-au-Prince or Cameroon?

  15. Christopher said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 12:16 am

    @Slugger: Quebec (and Canadian) French are, iirc, mostly similar to the French of France. The difference between the two dialects seems to be similar to the difference between the English and Spanish of the New World.

  16. Rakau said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 2:27 am

    I would like to respond to the question asked in the original post and reiterated above by Marc Ethier, 'is preserving a language a necessary or sufficient condition of preserving a culture?' My first point is to ask all of the anglophones in North America, and in the South Pacific where I lie, or anywhere else, if it doesn't make any difference to culture, then a simple solution would be to have them all speak our languages instead of theirs becuase it isn't connected to culture at all. There will be all sorts of excuses but in the end being english is to speak english, just as being a Quebecois is to speak French and being Maori is to speak Te Reo Maori. This response is all too easy to make. But, there is then the cultural identity argument. What defines a Quebecois? Or a Maori? Is it his/her ancestry? Place of birth? Religion? Customs/Rituals? Language? Probably all of the above. I have French ancestry, through Hugenot refugees in England. I have english ancestry and Scots. I learnt english before I learned by own language. In the end, I am defined by those around me and by me and my family by my language. It is mine. Having it and defending it against the majority who speak the dominant coloniser's tongue makes my language precious to me. If I lose it I don't stop being who I am but lose a big chunk of it. The most important link between language and identity/culture is the ability of one's own language to describe one's own culture, beliefs, world-view and for us as indigenous citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand. Those readers of this post who are truly bilingual will understand this. There are shades of meaning. Some things cannot be adequately or succinctly expressed in any other language, when speaking of one's own culture and rituals. For example we have death, mourning and funeral customs called 'tangihanga.' which literally means 'the crying' but that doesn't explain it at all. When we say tangihanga we describe in one word the ceremonies, feelings, beliefs and practices that last for a week or so. In one word. When I use the word 'kowhai' which translates as 'yellow' I don't mean the yellow you as the reader may think of. I mean the particular yellow of the kowhai tree which is native to my country. Language and culture are connected in the way Diego Marani describes in his fictional character in "Last of the Vostyachs." I write here of my language and culture. I guess that Marc Ethier will have his own feelings of connection with his Quebec culture and his Quebec French. Twenty odd years ago one of our leaders said of our language and culture that "Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Maori." This roughly translates as "The (Maori) language is the essence of our Maoriness." That sums it up really.

  17. maidhc said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 4:00 am

    One problem, I think, is that while few would dispute that Quebec is the centre of francophone Canadian culture, there is a tendency to present it as the totality of francophone Canadian culture. There are significant francophone populations in New Brunswick, parts of Ontario, and in other provinces. The most bilingual place I have ever visited was in northern Ontario.

    If, for example, Quebec were to separate, it would leave all the rest of the Canadian francophones abandoned in a majority anglophone world.

    I noticed quite a number of French-speaking Africans in Montreal. That is black people from sub-Saharan Africa, not North Africans.

    The numbers may say that Quebecois are becoming more bilingual, but I think it tends to be an urban phenomenon. Certainly in the business world it helps to be able to deal with the US. But travel around the small towns of Quebec and you will meet a lot of people who don't have any English, or maybe took it in high school and then forgot it except for a few words. And I don't think they were putting it on, because in many cases they were trying to sell me something, and they might have been more successful if they spoke English. Or even the French that I learned in school. "Breuvage" had me stumped for a while.

    To be clear, I don't have a problem with this. If I go to Quebec, I expect that people are going to speak French.

    Slugger: French immigration to Quebec stopped in the mid-18th century, at a time when the French language was much less standardized. I remember reading that only 10% of Napoleon's army spoke standard French. Most of the settlers came from the Atlantic coast of France, a lot from Normandy. Plus it has been evolving on its own since then.

    My uncle grew up in Quebec, and when he went to France people treated him like a total rube (this was a while ago, I think nowadays in France they know about Celine Dion). On the other hand, he saw some Molière plays and he was laughing at jokes that no one else in the audience understood.

  18. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 10:31 am

    Marc Ethier's point above about the PQ being a big-tent coalition made me focus on an angle I hadn't previously considered. I expect that most people in Quebec or the rest of Canada whose attitude toward the PQ is one of worry/concern/hostility see language policy and the drive for independence as two sides of the same coin, with any enactment of a more "aggressive" (I'm trying to be descriptive rather than normative/judgmental here, so swap in a less loaded word if you have one) language policy being both a further incremental step toward departure from the existing nation-state and a preview of the still-more-aggressive language policy a hypothetical future independent Quebec would be likely to have.

    That's not implausible, but it might not be the only possibility. If the PQ were governing an independent Quebec or one understood to be on the verge of a transition to actual independence, it would suddenly need to spend a whole lot more time articulating and implementing economic policies, foreign policies, and that sort of thing (and also perhaps discover that voters who were keenly interested in exchange-rate trends between the Quebec Franc and the US and Canadian dollars were suddenly less interested in how signage regulations should apply to facebook). The other way of looking at the same phenomenon is that lack of progress toward actual independence creates frustration and pent-up energy among nationalists of an activist bent, which then finds an outlet in some other area of policy where essentially symbolic victories seem obtainable, with language policy being one possible such arena. If you were finally free of domination by the Anglo-majority regime in Ottawa, you might feel less threatened by your local Anglo minority (although it should probably be recalled that magnanimity in victory is not always a characteristic of separatist/nationalist movements that have achieved their objectives and come to power, and perhaps mutual ethnic cleansing, no doubt carried out in a very polite Canadian fashion, would be an equally plausible outcome of a parting of the ways).

  19. the other Mark P said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

    The idea that the language laws are there to "protect the language" from creeping growth of English is ridiculous. French is in absolutely no danger of dying out, given that it is the language of France. Every last French speaker in Canada could die without it having any serious implications for the ability of French to survive. If France were to start speaking another language, however, Canadian French would be in big trouble.

    The language laws must therefore be a stalking horse for some other issue(s). It allows the advancement of political ideas that would be considered illegitimate if advanced directly.

  20. Marc Ethier said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 6:05 pm


    A swiss born native francophone tells me that one rarely hears French on the streets of Montreal, but a French derived patois is spoken there.

    Now that's something I've heard many people say, but I must say I definitely didn't expect to read it on the Language Log. A "French derived patois"? Come on people, if we read this blog it's because we're interested in and at least somewhat familiar with linguistics, and should know better than this.

    But this does touch on another social aspect of the language question in Quebec I'm not sure people hearing about it from English-language media would really be aware of. It's true that the colloquial French (or Frenchs) spoken in Quebec are different from the colloquial Frenchs spoken in francophone European countries, and of course also different from the reference, formal French. But given that francophone Quebecers used to be an oppressed minority (and here I'm not making any claims about who was doing the oppressing, I'm just stating a fact), colloquial Quebec French became stigmatized, both in Quebec itself, elsewhere in Canada, and in other francophone countries. You see it in people such as Slugger referring to it as a "French-Canadian patois". But most unfortunately Quebecers themselves have assimilated the idea that they speak "bad". And this is not helped by a certain class of intellectuals in Quebec viewing any deviation from the French as spoken in France as a sign of inferiority. The social aspects of Quebec French remind me in a way (but keep in mind that I'm not an expert) of African American English.

    Those who can read French and who are interested in Quebec French from a sociolinguistic viewpoint may find it interesting to check this blog: It's written by a Quebec linguist who also used to teach French as a foreign language to immigrants. I'd wager that her arguments (basically, different language registers exist, people speak differently in different situations, and linguistics is a science that is subject to the scientific method, not only to unsupported speculation) would be fairly obvious to most linguists, but the fact that she has to make them, repeatedly, to hammer home to Quebecers the idea that the way they speak is not a moral wrong speaks volumes. And many visitors to her blog appear to consider her opinions to be not only extremely controversial, but even dangerous.

  21. Marc Ethier said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 7:37 pm


    One problem, I think, is that while few would dispute that Quebec is the centre of francophone Canadian culture, there is a tendency to present it as the totality of francophone Canadian culture. There are significant francophone populations in New Brunswick, parts of Ontario, and in other provinces. The most bilingual place I have ever visited was in northern Ontario.

    True, there are French speakers in other Canadian provinces, and they very much dislike when we forget about them. But from my point of view as a francophone Quebecer who is somewhat familiar with French Ontario, there is an important difference. Francophones in other Canadian provinces, with the possible exception of New Brunswick, pretty much think and act as if they were any other Canadian ethnocultural minority. While they do not wish to get assimilated and disappear, they've basically accepted that the outside world is in English and that French is nothing but an ethnic characteristic of their community. While they do have access to a French-language school system (though depending on the place accessibility can be difficult) and some other governmental services in their language, which helps distinguish them from other ethnic minorities, they do not have much of a sense of being different from other Canadians. They overwhelmingly consume English-language cultural products (in fairness, they consider French-language Canadian culture to be wholly Quebec-oriented, which isn't an inaccurate statement), and unsurprisingly their rate of linguistic transfer toward English is very high. Some French-language communities in Canada only keep existing because of the arrival of interprovincial migrants from Quebec.

    This of course is very different from the situation in Quebec, where the majority idea among the francophone population is that while knowledge of English — and other languages — is useful and a good idea, the common language of Quebec should be French. It shouldn't only be used for interactions among francophones, with English remaining the "outside language". Even non-francophones should strive to know and use French. In other words, Quebec francophones do not see themselves as an ethnocultural minority in the Canadian nation, but rather as a national group, or otherwise as the co-majority group in the Canadian nation (depending on their political alignment). With their own proper national myths, particular view of Canadian history, and living culture.

    This, I think, is something English speakers in Canada have a lot of trouble accepting. Debating politics with anglophones I've been told many times that the idea that Canada was founded upon a partnership of two "founding peoples" (natives could also be included in this, but of course at the time nobody thought of them) is now moot because of massive immigration from all over the world and the policy of official multiculturalism. There is no such thing anymore, only a mosaic of ethnocultural communities. And I believe this makes anglophones wonder why Quebec francophones aren't more like other Canadian francophones or even other Canadian ethnic groups. This brings us back to Julie's question. Of course Canadian ethnic minorities, including Canadian francophones outside Quebec, have their "own" culture despite living, working and being immersed in English. Would it be dramatic if Quebec francophones — at least in Montreal, which is what anglophones seem to mostly care about because it is where the anglophone Quebec community is concentrated — were the same? It depends on what you call "dramatic". It would definitely be different. Canada might be more stable but to me it's clear we'd see a major loss of diversity. But the important thing is, Quebecers for the most part wouldn't consider that a desirable outcome, which is why they will resist such attempts.

    In other words, it serves no purpose to wonder whether a national group should or should not exist, at least in the shape and form it has right now. Their existence does not depend on moral right. They do exist, and will continue to do so for as long as they're sustainable and wish to exist as such.

  22. Fritz said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

    @Slugger: I have studied only European French, yet the French that I have heard on the street in Montréal is no more difficult for me than the English spoken by working class people in parts of Britain.

    @Mark Ethier: I think that you are being a bit too dismissive of the million native speakers of French in Canada who live outside of Québec. Even here in British Columbia there are tens of thousands of native speakers of French. The ones that I know would be devastated if Québec separated, given the inevitable unfortunate consequences for their language rights.

  23. miguel said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

    Studies published Nov. 27 by Quebec’s language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française, took more wind out of the PQ’s sails. It turns out the overwhelming majority of Quebecers — 89% — work primarily in French. That is an increase from 83% in 1971 and only a slight dip from a peak of 91% in 1989. What’s more, among Quebec allophones, whom the PQ fears are in constant danger of becoming anglicized, the percentage working primarily in French has risen steadily from 42% in 1971 to 68% in 2010.

  24. Bruce said,

    March 23, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

    The origin of Québec's aggressive enforcement of linguistic policy and restricting access to English language education arose because when the Parti Québecois first came to power in the 1970's, francophones were a majority, an anglophone minority concentrated in Montréal had effective control of the province. So 40 years ago, language was a weapon for the majority to regain control of their destiny.

    The argument made at the time was this was a temporary necessity, not a permanent one, an emergency measure to restore the proper position not of the French language, which is just an idea, of the the people who speak it, especially in the regions of Québec outside Montreal where English was and remains much less used.

    At the time of the creation of Law 101 (the first act of the PQ Lévesque government), there was no effective Bill of Rights in Canada and indeed Quebec governments, not just the PQ ones, have always suspected that a Bill of Rights would compromise minority language (minority in Canada, but majority in Québec) rights.

    Since then three things have happens which most observers can agree on.

    [1] Two referenda have been staged, each with the Quebec people narrowly rejecting independence. At the conclusion of the second one, Jacques Parizeau, in a drunken state, let it be known (on national TV) that the "allophones" had cost the PQ victory. This xenophobic remark reflected the hard reality that that "habitants" (descendants of the original French settlers) are becoming rarer, and that Francophone immigrants from other countries, especially Africa, are less inclined to want a separate Québec state. This means that the third referendum if there is one soon will be decisive — the demographic trends are against the independence project.

    [2] Meanwhile 40 years later, francophones are firmly in control of the professions, most sectors of the economy, and tables have been turned on the formerly smug English minority who dominated the economy and other aspects of Québec life back then. Therefore, people wonder when the "temporary necessity" ends.

    [3] After the first referendum, there was a long period of constitutional wrangling, required even without the Quebec issue because Canada still wasn't even then a fully independent country, but instead the constitution was an act of the UK parliament. UK wouldn't refuse any reasonable request to change it of course, but the necessity remained that an outside body (the UK parliament) would judge if the constitutional process was followed properly. After interminable wrangling there was almost a deal that would have settled the matter for a long time. In particular, previously Québec has an absolute veto over any change. In a process seen (the reality will never be told since most of the participants are dead or not telling) as devious, Levesque conceded this key point but did not get what he had expected in return. The result of all this was that Canada had a new constitution in 1982 which included a Bill of Rights similar to the US one, with the exception that there was provision for governments, national and provincial to override it for certain purposes. This was supposed to be a concession to Quebec's "special" requirements but instead was seen as a betrayal. The national government, 9 provinces BUT NOT QUEBEC ratified it and the Queen signed it on a rainy day in 1982 (the official copy has a water smear!). As anticipated by the PQ, in the 32 ensuing years there has been a lot of (mostly unsuccessful) litigation against the Quebec government's language police as they are sometimes called.

    Unrelated to [3] some parties are now agitating to re-open the constitutional question so that that the Canadian Senate can be reformed or abolished (similar to what is happening the in the UK).

    There is nothing like a dispute between former friends to create an intractable problem. Trudeau and Levesque were previously friends (journalists), but by the time of the key negotiations in the early 1980's had become implacable enemies — and the final betrayal (Levesque's view at least) as described above hardens attitudes of people old enough to remember the key events.

    I'm describing of course political events. Levesque spoke English very well and eventually English Canada regarded him as a reasonable person — until 1981 at least. His key opponent, Trudeau was also a Quebecker but raised by his Anglo mother after the early death of his French father. The language wars of the 1970's devolved into competition for immigrants. The national government allocated Quebec (and other provinces) separate quotas — and Quebec set up overseas offices in Francophone African countries and the Caribbean to attract immigrants. One of them was recently the Governor General (Queen's representative, nearest equivalent of President in Canada). In all provinces (indeed across the Western world) the "original" inhabitants are not replacing themselves and rely on immigrants to keep a viable workforce. Hence Parizeau's drunken remark.

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