New Census Data Showing French ‘Endangered’ Sparks Debate Ahead of Quebec Elections

New census data released Wednesday shows French is in jeopardy, according to Quebec’s political class, but an Anglophone rights group says it worries the data will be used to portray English speakers as a threat ahead of elections. autumn provinces.

Census data proves “beyond any reasonable doubt” that the French language is at risk in the province, said Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec’s Minister of the French Language.

Quebec is at a linguistic crossroads and it is time to “reverse the trend” and stem “the decline of French” in the province, he added.

In its latest census release, Statistics Canada said the percentage of Quebec residents who predominantly speak French at home dropped to 77.5% in 2021 from 79% in 2016. The percentage of Quebec residents whose first official language is English increased to 13%. in 2021 from 12 percent in 2016, reaching more than a million people for the first time.

Eva Ludvig, interim president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an Anglophone rights group, said the growth of Quebec’s English-speaking community should be celebrated.

“We don’t see ourselves as a threat to Quebec, we see ourselves as an ally of the French language: we support it, we learn it, we use it,” he said. “But the fact that we want to protect our identity and our rights does not make us a threat.”

However, he said he is concerned that the next Quebec government will use the data as an excuse to impose new restrictions on languages ​​other than French. Bill 96, which passed the legislature in May, does little to protect French but punishes people who speak English, Ludvig said.

Jolin-Barrette, the architect of Bill 96, which aims to make French the common language in all areas of Quebec life, including at home and at work, said her party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec, he does not plan to introduce new language legislation if he is re-elected in October. The law, he added, gives the government all the tools it needs to protect the French.

The Parti Quebecois used the new figures to bolster its argument that it is the only party that will go further than the CAQ in promoting French in the province. PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said the government had taken “half-measures” to protect the French and a “more robust and comprehensive plan” was needed.

“Year after year, we see the decline of French accelerating without governments having the courage to introduce measures that are up to the challenge of reversing this trend,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Quebec Liberal Party said protecting the French language is a priority, but it will not try to change the language people speak among friends and family.

“What is important to us is ensuring that French is the common language in Quebec. It is not up to the government to dictate the language spoken at home,” the party said in a statement.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said that if French is not spoken at home, the language will eventually disappear.

Daniel Beland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, says the timing of the census data release puts language issues on the agenda ahead of Quebec’s Oct. 3 election.

Beland said the data may put the government on the defensive, but added that it will be easy for the CAQ to say it has already acted on Bill 96. The party could also use the new census figures to bolster its calls for Ottawa to give Quebec more control over immigration.

“I don’t think language is going to be the dominant theme during the campaign, but with these new numbers, certainly (the parties) won’t be able to avoid it,” Beland said.

This Canadian Press report was first published in French on August 17, 2022.

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