Camille Laurin’s dream

“Quebec should be as French as Ontario is English.” This phrase was heard repeatedly from Dr. Camille Laurin, then Minister of State for Cultural Development in René Lévesque’s freshly elected Parti Québécois government, as he sold his Charter of the French Language to Quebecers in 1977.1

Laurin’s daring new language policy, more commonly known as Bill 101, was the second stage in a thorough revamping of Quebec’s language regime, following closely on the heels of Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s groundbreaking Bill 22. Passed in 1974, Bill 22 had already proclaimed French Quebec’s official language. It had also begun promoting French as language of work as well as streaming the children of wayward francophone parents and of all newcomers whose mother tongue was neither French nor English through Quebec’s French-language school system. Bill 101 pursued similar objectives, only more firmly. More generally, Laurin’s charter aimed at making French “the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.”2 In short, French was to become the langue commune of Quebec society – the default language to be used between people of different mother tongues.

The vision was certainly clear. But some 30 years down the line, the best available data show just as clearly that Laurin’s dream is not coming true.

A few years prior to Quebec’s “French first” language policy, Canada had already put its Official Languages Act to work, with the aim of bolstering both the status of English in Quebec and that of French in the rest of Canada. So while comparing the status of French in Quebec with that of English in Ontario, in this article I also assess how well English is faring in Quebec and how French stands in Ontario. Here, too, the data clearly show that the result for French is below par.

As far as language behaviour in the home environment is concerned, traditional Canadian census data on mother tongue indicate roughly what language respondents used most often at home in their early childhood. Since 1971, the census has also gathered information on what language respondents speak most often at home. I use the results from the 1971 census as benchmark for the status of French and English in Quebec and Ontario homes at the time of the Official Languages Act and just before bills 22 and 101. Data from subsequent censuses then provide adequate means for monitoring language behaviour at home through 2006.

Though the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, had suggested in the 1960s that future censuses include a question on principal language spoken at work,3 Statistics Canada put off collecting such data until the census of 2001. As the span of time between 2001 and 2006 is very short, I limit my observations regarding English and French in the work world to the 2006 census data, supplemented by some recent and telling survey results.

To put things in good perspective, we must take into account the main demographic factors which affect the official-language makeup of Quebec and Ontario. This can best be done by first examining the mother-tongue and home-language data separately. Then I analyze the information on mother tongue, home language and language of work jointly, in order to see how sociolinguistic factors such as the vitality of French and English at home and at work also influence the language situation in both provinces.

Mother-tongue trends since 1971

Table 1 presents a quick look at overall trends since 1971 in terms of mother tongue. From this standpoint, Quebec has become somewhat less French and much less English, whereas Ontario has become both much less English and much less French. This general trend toward a drop in relative weight of anglophones and francophones in both provinces can be attributed in the main to their inadequate fertility since 1971 and to heavy allophone immigration.4 By anglophone and francophone I mean people of English and French mother tongue respectively, and by allophone I mean people whose mother tongue is any language other than English or French.

A closer examination, however, reveals that the two provinces’ official-language minorities show the sharpest declines in weight. Quebec’s anglophone minority has even lost out in absolute numbers, to the tune of some 180,000 members. This results from the additional impact of heavy net losses through out-migration of Quebec anglophones to Ontario and the other provinces.5

The exodus of Anglo-Quebecers was already in full swing by the 1960s, in the thick of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.6 During the first 20 years of interprovincial migration on record, between 1966 and 1986, the censuses totalled a net loss for Quebec of more than 250,000 anglophones who moved to somewhere else in Canada – mainly to Ontario.7 During the next 20 years, between 1986 and 2006, the corresponding net loss amounted to fewer than 80,000, with a record low of only 8,000 net anglophone out-migrants from Quebec to the rest of Canada between 2001 and 2006.8

In contrast, the sharp drop in weight of Ontario’s francophone minority, also evidenced in table 1, cannot be explained by interprovincial migration. Indeed, it can be estimated that Ontario gained a net total of more than 20,000 francophones who moved out of Quebec between 1971 and 2006.9 The decline results instead from the inadequate intergenerational replacement of Ontario francophones, due to their low fertility and to their low maintenance of French as main language spoken at home – and subsequently transmitted as mother tongue to their children. I discuss this process at greater length below.

A closer look at table 1 also reveals a substantial difference in the two provincial majorities’ growth rates. Quebec’s francophone majority increased by slightly more than one million people over the 35-year period, while Ontario’s anglophone majority increased by well over 2.3 million. In terms of relative increase since 1971, Ontario’s anglophone majority has grown almost twice as fast as Quebec’s francophone majority.

In addition, Quebec’s anglophone exodus has become such a thing of the past, and the power of assimilation of English has remained so superior to that of French in the province, that Quebec’s anglophone minority has begun to grow once more in absolute numbers. Between 2001 and 2006, it grew just as fast as Ontario’s anglophone majority.

Quebec’s new language dynamic

On December 4, 2007, the first results of the 2006 census were released, and they ran through Quebec like a shock wave. Between 2001 and 2006, the relative weight of the French mother-tongue majority had dropped as never before in Canadian history – in the whole period starting with the census of 1871. The majority had lost 1.8 percentage points provincewide, and 2.6 points in the Montreal metropolitan area.10

Moreover, throughout Quebec as well as in the Montreal area, the anglophone minority had grown much faster than the francophone majority. The first half of table 2 sums up this initial wave of news as regards the census mother-tongue data at the provincial level.

Things look even less rosy for French as compared to English in Quebec now that estimates for the population missed at both censuses have been published. At any given census, a small percentage of the population misses being enumerated. Based on other sources of information such as the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Statistics Canada is able to estimate the number of people missed in each province as well as their mother tongue. As a rule, immigrants and allophones turn out to be overrepresented among the population missed.

However, over the last two censuses, the number of people missed in Quebec took on a special twist. According to Statistics Canada’s estimations, some 86,000 francophone Quebecers were not counted in 2001, as compared to a scant 11,800 missed in 2006. This means that most of the 114,800 numerical increase in Quebec’s francophone majority between 2001 and 2006, as shown in the first half of table 2, simply derives from the fact that francophone Quebecers were enumerated more exhaustively in the 2006 census than in 2001.

Furthermore, some 15,000 people living in senior residences were included by Statistics Canada in the 2006 census sample data for Quebec but not in those of 2001. Almost all such senior Quebecers were of French mother tongue.

The second half of table 2 consequently shows the mother-tongue trends for French and English in Quebec once the comparability of the data has been improved by adjusting them to take into account this disparity concerning seniors, as well as the population missed at both censuses.11

As far as trends in weight are concerned, the adjusted data yield a slightly different picture from the one given by the initial census data. The drop in relative weight of Quebec’s francophone majority comes a bit closer, in the second half of table 2, to two full percentage points. What is more instructive is that its anglophone minority entirely holds its ground. Ever since 1871, from census to census Quebec’s anglophone minority had always decreased in weight. The 2001–06 period marks the first time this is not so.

Equally instructive is the difference in growth rates in the second half of table 2.

The unadjusted data in table 2 represent a growth rate of 2 per cent for Quebec’s francophone majority over the 2001–06 period, which is almost double its 1.3 per cent growth rate for the preceding 1996–2001 period.12 The adjusted data, however, spell a decline in its growth rate to only 0.5 per cent for 2001–06. This is in line with the steady slowdown in growth rate of the francophone population in Quebec since 1951.13 It also fits demographic forecasts of negative growth for the francophone majority in the near future.14

By contrast, the 3.4 per cent growth rate for Quebec’s anglophone minority since 2001, according to the second half of table 2, is seven times that of the francophone majority. Indeed, during 2001–06 the anglophone minority in Quebec grew just as fast as the anglophone majority in Ontario, which also boasted a 3.4 per cent growth rate over the same period.15

Is Laurin’s dream turning into a nightmare?

Home-language trends since 1971

The Laurendeau-Dunton Commission rightly judged that the information provided by the mother tongue data is “a generation behind the facts,”16 and suggested adding to the census a question on principal language currently spoken at home. Table 3 shows how the official-language makeup of Quebec and Ontario has changed in terms of the resulting census information on current home language.

The official-language populations have, as a rule, better maintained their relative weight in terms of main home language than in terms of mother tongue. Ontario’s French-speaking minority is a striking exception here, its weight having been practically cut in half between 1971 and 2006. By French-speaking and English-speaking I mean people whose main home language is French and English respectively.

The improved showing of three out of the four official-language populations in table 3 (main home language) as compared to table 1 (mother tongue), and the worse showing of French in Ontario, are due entirely to the process of assimilation in terms of language behaviour in the home environment. Both French and English benefit from being assimilating languages in Quebec, whereas English stands alone as the uncontested language of assimilation in Ontario, to the detriment of French and nonofficial languages.17

It is worth noting, in particular, that over the 35 years in play in table 3, Quebec’s English-speaking minority decreased in absolute numbers by exactly 100,000 – notably less than the corresponding decrease of 180,000 in terms of mother tongue observed in table 1 – whereas Ontario’s French-speaking minority dropped by 47,800. These represent decreases of 11 per cent for English as main home language in Quebec as against 14 per cent for French in Ontario. In other words, Ontario’s French-speaking minority has lost proportionally more through the assimilation of francophones to English than Quebec’s English-speaking minority has lost through the anglophone exodus.18

As for the official-language majorities in both provinces, Quebec’s French-speaking majority increased by somewhat more than 1.2 million since 1971, whereas Ontario’s English-speaking majority grew by well over 3.2 million. With respect to their initial sizes, the English home-language population in Ontario grew almost exactly twice as fast as the French home-language population in Quebec.

The increase in weight of Quebec’s French-speaking majority in table 3 is, moreover, somewhat misleading. Fuelled by the exodus of anglophones, the weight of French as main home language in Quebec actually rose to a peak of 82.7 per cent in 1986. It has been decreasing at each census since then.19 And the decrease has picked up steam between the last two censuses. This is worth looking at more closely.

Quebec’s present home-language dynamic

The 2006 census’s bad news for French as mother tongue in Quebec was accompanied by the release of similarly alarming new data regarding main home language. According to the 2001 and 2006 census data, the weight of French in Quebec as language spoken most often at home plunged as it never had before.

In stark contrast, between 2001 and 2006 the weight of English rose for the first time in the whole period in which home-language data have been collected (from 1971 on). The upper half of table 4 sums up this further census information.

As was the case for mother tongue, the news for French is even more disquieting once the 2001 and 2006 data have been adjusted to improve their comparability, by including people missed at both censuses and excluding seniors counted in 2006 but not in 2001.20 This can be seen by comparing the upper and lower halves of table 4.

Improving the comparability of the data confirms, in particular, that Quebec’s English-speaking minority increased in weight for the first time since 1971. It also establishes that it didn’t just grow twice as fast as Quebec’s French-speaking majority over the 2001–06 period, as the census data in the upper half of table 4 lead one to think: the adjusted data show that the English-speaking minority grew more than four times as fast (a growth rate of 5.6 per cent as compared to 1.3 per cent).

This cannot be explained by demographic factors, such as a difference in birth rates between Quebec’s two official-language populations. Nor can it be explained by interprovincial migration, for Quebec lost about 8,000 anglophones to the rest of Canada between 2001 and 2006 while gaining some 5,000 francophones.21 The real key to Quebec’s new language dynamic is the persistently superior vitality of the English language per se, as compared to that of French.

Vitality of English and French in the home environment

The vitality of a language is best measured by the extent to which it is used.22 In the home environment, the extent to which a given language is currently used depends on how many of its native speakers persist in speaking it as main home language, a behaviour known in sociolinguistics as language maintenance, together with how many native speakers of other languages adopt it as their new home language, which is called language shift.

In this light, census data on mother tongue and current home language are tailor-made for measuring language vitality in the privacy of the home. We will use the vitality index of a given language, obtained by dividing its home-language count by its mother-tongue count, as a handy gauge for the language’s vitality in the home environment. Depending on whether the result is greater than, equal to or less than one, the language’s vitality may be considered high, average or low.

For example, the data for 1971 in tables 1 and 3 yield an index of 1.13 (887,900/788,800) for English in Quebec, which marks its already high vitality in Quebec homes at the time. At the same census, an index of 0.73 (352,500/482,400) for French in Ontario signals its low vitality in Ontario homes in 1971.

Figure 1 charts the vitality trends of English and French in Quebec and Ontario homes through 2006, as based on census sample data. The persistently superior vitality of English as compared to French is evident in both provinces.

In Quebec, the vitality of English has furthermore been increasing more rapidly than that of French throughout the 35 years at stake. This is notably so during the 2001–06 period, by the end of which the vitality index for English had risen to 1.30, compared to only 1.03 for French.

Moreover, the vitality index of English calculated at any given census underestimates the language’s true degree of vitality within Quebec society. Francophones and allophones who have shifted to English as main home language while living in Quebec are, just like anglophones, more prone to migrate to Ontario or to other provinces. Those who leave are, at the following census, no longer present to bear witness to the vitality of English in Quebec homes.

Conversely, the vitality index of French substantially overestimates the language’s power of assimilation within Quebec at the more recent censuses, because much of the increase in the vitality index for French after 1981 is due to Quebec’s selection, following the 1978 Cullen–Couture Agreement, of allophone immigrants who had already shifted to French as main home language abroad, before they had even immigrated to the province. It has been estimated that no more than half of all shift to French as main home language reported by allophone immigrants actually occurred during their stay in Quebec, and the immigrant contribution to overall allophone shift to French is by far the main determinant of the increase in the language’s vitality index in Quebec since 1981.23

All in all, it should be kept in mind that comparison of the vitality indices for English and French in Quebec homes at recent censuses systematically underestimates the advantage enjoyed by English in language behaviour maintained or acquired while living in Quebec.24

Vitality of English and French at work

The superior status of English as compared to French in both provinces’ work worlds is arguably the main reason for the superior vitality of English in Quebec and Ontario homes. Just as the vitality index for a given language in the home environment can be calculated since 1971, as of 2001 the census data provide the means to calculate a vitality index for any given language in the work world, obtained by dividing its main language of work count by its mother-tongue count.

On the basis of the 2006 census sample data, the vitality of English at work was quite high in both Quebec and Ontario, with indices of 1.87 and 1.39 respectively. In both cases, the vitality of English at work was distinctly higher than the vitality of English at home which, as may be calculated from tables 1 and 3, had grown by 2006 to 1.30 in Quebec and 1.18 in Ontario.

Evidently, for francophones as well as allophones, working in English in Quebec or Ontario does not automatically spell adopting English as main home language. But it certainly helps.

In contrast, the vitality of French at work was just 1.05 in Quebec and only 0.39 in Ontario. Small wonder that French trails far behind English in terms of vitality in Quebec homes, where it crept up to a mere 1.03 in 2006, and that the vitality of French in Ontario homes is firmly caught in a tailspin, falling to a new low of 0.60 at the last census.

A major survey conducted in 2001–02 by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française also bears witness to the superior status of English in Quebec’s work world. Though provisions of Bill 101 promoting French as language of work apply with full force in large companies with 100 or more employees, in companies of this size in the Montreal metropolitan area francophone employees still use English slightly more often than French as main language of communication with their anglophone coworkers.25 French is no doubt even further from becoming “the normal and everyday language of work,” or the langue commune used between people of different mother tongues, in smaller companies where Bill 101 is either applied less stringently (companies with 50 to 99 employees) or not at all (those with 49 employees or fewer).26

A further indication of the dominant status of English in Quebec’s work world is the marked disproportion between the total population studying in English-language postsecondary institutions and these institutions’ “natural,” English mother-tongue clientele. Though anglophones make up no more than 9 per cent of the total postsecondary student body in Quebec, twice as many college-age students – 18 per cent – currently choose to study in English-language colleges (Cégeps). A full 25 per cent of all university students likewise choose to study in English-language institutions. The above-mentioned 2001–02 survey confirmed the relevance of these stark disproportions to our present discussion by showing directly that the link between language of work and that of postsecondary education is quite real.

While Bill 101 ensures that all children of recent immigrants to Quebec must attend French primary and secondary schools, immigrants who arrive beyond school age are not directly obliged to speak French, or even to learn the language. As could be expected, after Bill 101 the adoption of French as new home language among allophone immigrants who arrived in Quebec at or before school age rose sharply, to the detriment of English.27 However, notwithstanding the provisions of Bill 101 fostering the use of French at work, census data show no improvement in the status of French relative to English as home language among allophone immigrants arriving at a more advanced age.28 Here again, insofar as the adoption of a new main home language by allophone immigrants reflects their language of work, Bill 101 does not seem to have made a significant impact on language use in Quebec’s immigrant work world.

A longitudinal survey of adult immigrants carried out by Statistics Canada during 2001–05 found, in addition, that after four years of residence in Quebec, ability to speak English was associated with a higher employment rate than was ability to speak French. This can be seen from figure 2. Figure 2 shows as well that a higher competence level in English was associated with a higher employment rate, as can reasonably be expected. But such was not the case for French.

The same survey also found that among immigrants who were employed after four years’ residence in Quebec, average or above average competence in spoken English was associated with a higher hourly wage than was a comparable competence level in French (figure 3). It was also observed that, as could be expected, average hourly wage grew with increasing competence in English, whereas this was again not true for French.

Overall, for immigrants to Quebec, knowledge of English still offers better odds of getting a job than knowledge of French, and greater mastery of English still paves the way to more satisfactory, better-paid jobs, whereas greater competence in French does not.29 French simply has not replaced English as the key to success for allophone newcomers in Quebec’s work world.

Superior vitality spells demographic advantage

The superior vitality of English in the work world in Quebec and Ontario no doubt largely explains its superior vitality in both provinces’ homes. The superior home vitality of English, in turn, generates a distinct demographic advantage for the anglophone populations in both provinces. In particular, this fuels Quebec’s new language dynamic. But let us first examine this process in Ontario, where the high vitality of English at home and the low vitality of French combine to give its anglophone majority a staggering demographic advantage over its francophone minority.

The mechanism is quite simple.30 Many francophone and allophone parents who shift to speaking English as main home language transmit English as mother tongue to their children. The consistently high vitality of English in Ontario homes is thus a constant source of additional anglophone children, who just about entirely make up for the anglophone majority’s inadequate birth rate.

Figure 4 illustrates the successful intergenerational replacement of Ontario’s anglophone population nowadays. Despite this population’s inadequate total fertility rate of 1.54 children per woman between 2001 and 200631 – 27 per cent less than the 2.1 children per woman that demographers view as the requirement for a stable population – figure 4 shows that the number of young anglophone children aged 0 to 4 in 2006 is only 2 per cent less than the number of young anglophone adults aged 30 to 34, who are most likely to be their parents.32 This means that the high number of francophone and allophone parents who shifted to speaking English at home in Ontario generated enough additional English mother-tongue children between 2001 and 2006 to erase nearly all of the anglophone majority’s “biological” intergenerational deficit.

The francophone minority’s biological deficit in 2006 was likewise 27 per cent, since its total fertility rate between the last two censuses was 1.53, almost exactly the same as that of the anglophone majority (as it has been for the past 15 years).33 But some 40 per cent of young francophone adults in Ontario currently shift to English as main home language, causing an additional loss of francophone children who are brought up with English as their mother tongue instead of French. Assimilation to English thus worsens the francophone minority’s intergenerational shortfall, which stood at 39 per cent in 2006, as figure 5 shows.

Comparing fertility rates and age profiles in this way brings out the overwhelming demographic advantage that Ontario’s anglophone majority gains over its francophone minority through the high vitality of English and the low vitality of French in the province. Similar comparisons establish how the superior vitality of English in Quebec gives its anglophone minority a kindred advantage over its francophone majority, which led to the stunning language dynamic observed in Quebec during 2001–06.

From 1981 through 2006, Quebec’s anglophone minority has been just as inadequately fertile as its francophone majority. Between 2001 and 2006, the anglophone minority’s total fertility rate even fell to a record low of only 1.44 children per woman.34 Its corresponding biological deficit was 31 per cent, a record high.

However, as we have seen, the vitality of English in Quebec has, at the same time, remained distinctly higher than that of French. As a result, the age profile of Quebec’s anglophone minority closely resembles that of Ontario’s anglophone majority (compare figure 6 to figure 4). The anglophone minority’s intergenerational deficit was only 5 per cent in 2006, thanks to English’s formidable power of assimilation in Quebec.

Given that Quebec’s anglophones and francophones have been inadequately fertile for so long and to precisely the same degree, were the vitality index for French in Quebec homes identical to that of English, the francophone majority’s age profile would also be practically identical to the anglophone minority’s. However, the vitality of French has persistently been much lower than that of English in the province’s homes. As a consequence, unlike the anglophone minority’s age profile, the base of the francophone majority’s profile has been eroding.

Quebec’s francophone majority suffered a substantial 17 per cent intergenerational deficit in 2006, as can be seen from figure 7. Comparison of figures 6 and 7 sums up the fact that the superior vitality of English in the province has given its anglophone minority a distinct demographic advantage over its francophone majority, thus setting the stage for Quebec’s new language dynamic.

A rude awakening

Today’s Quebec is definitely not becoming as French as Ontario is English. Stretching the point the better to drive it home, in the light of vitality indices and age profiles, Quebec rather looks as English as Ontario.

Wrapped in Camille Laurin’s dream, Quebec’s francophone majority has slept soundly for some three decades. By the mid-1990s it had already become evident that French had ceased to progress in Quebec’s work world and that the gains of French as language of assimilation were due more to the selection of immigrants than to the power of attraction of French within Quebec society. The Larose Commission of 2000–2001 and the Bouchard-Taylor Commission of 2007–08 chose not to pull the alarm. Quebec agencies like the Office Québécois de la Langue Française and the Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française likewise avoided rocking the boat.35

But the last census undeniably confirmed that the basic sociolinguistic factors constantly at work within Quebec society are geared to making Quebec less French and more English. The scant 2001–06 out-migration of Quebec anglophones to the rest of Canada simply served to make this crystal clear.

As a result, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois now seems poised to extend Bill 101’s provisions on language of education and language of work to Cégeps and smaller companies. The PQ’s desire to act is driven above all by the situation unfolding in the Montreal metropolitan area, where the disparity between the vitality of English and French, and the resulting demographic dynamic, are even more pronounced than the provincewide results presented above.36

French Quebec appears to be wide awake again. It’s not hard to understand why.

Continue reading “English Versus French: A Comparison of Vitality in Quebec and Ontario Yields Surprising Results”

Wasting a precious resource

As a journalist, Graham Fraser could be fairly critical of Canada’s language policy, but he did find bright spots. One of them was the idea of attracting francophone immigrants to bolster the francophone minorities outside Quebec.* He observed with satisfaction that the target set for this goal (following the 2003–2008 Action Plan for Canada’s official languages, introduced by Stéphane Dion as a minister in the Chrétien government) had already been surpassed by 2004.1

Now that he has taken on the role of Commissioner of Official Languages, Fraser continues to favour this idea. In his first annual report, he notes that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has now set the target of attracting between 8,000 and 10,000 French-speaking immigrants per year to francophone communities outside Quebec. This is a very tall order. Indeed, the Standing Committee on Official Languages has recommended a thorough reevaluation of the definitions and targets put forth in the 2006 Strategic Plan to Foster Immigration to Francophone Minority Communities.2

It is difficult to share Fraser’s enthusiasm if one takes a look at the analysis on which the policy was initially based, and at its likely contribution to the viability of francophone populations beyond Quebec and the “Bilingual Belt,” running roughly from Moncton to Sault Sainte-Marie.3 Keeping the minority numbers up through francophone immigration to massively English-speaking parts of Canada may in fact do more harm than good to the francophone population of Canada as a whole.

The reasoning underlying the policy

From the very beginning of her term of office, former Commissioner of Official Languages Dyane Adam insisted on using immigration to compensate for losses incurred by the francophone minorities through assimilation to English.4 The federal government followed suit in 2002 with a new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which stipulates that immigration must support the development of the official-language minorities. Citizenship and Immigration Canada subsequently launched its first Strategic Framework to Foster Immigration to Francophone Minority Communities outside Quebec in November 2003.

Examination of the two studies Adam used to justify her proposed policy raises doubts as to its soundness. Based on 1996 census data, the first study shows that adoption of English as main home language reaches 50 per cent among francophone immigrants after 10 years of residence outside Quebec, whether they hail from France or Africa. This is a higher anglicization rate than that of francophones outside Quebec who were born in Canada. The study also shows that Quebec’s share of francophone immigration was lower than the relative weight of Quebec’s francophone population within the total francophone population of Canada.5 Right off the bat, then, if francophone immigrants outside Quebec assimilate more rapidly to English than native-born francophones while, at the same time, Quebec’s francophone population doesn’t receive its fair share of francophone immigrants, a policy encouraging even more francophones to immigrate outside Quebec doesn’t look like such a good idea.

The second study deals with those having French as First Official Language Spoken (FOLS). Together with francophones, this census statistic includes allophones who report being able to speak French but not English. From this standpoint, in 1996 the proportion of immigrants among the French FOLS population was already as high in the rest of Canada (ROC) as it was in Quebec. The Commissioner preferred, however, to consider the share of immigrants in the French FOLS population and in the English FOLS population. But Quebec appears disadvantaged as compared to the ROC in this respect too. In Quebec, immigrants make up 27 per cent of the English FOLS population compared to only 5 per cent for the French FOLS population, while in the ROC, immigrants make up 19 per cent of the English FOLS population and 5 per cent of the French, a less disadvantageous ratio for French than in Quebec.6

Clearly, then, the basis for the current policy is questionable and calls for closer scrutiny. To this end I use custom cross-tabulations of 2001 and 2006 census data on mother tongue, language spoken most often at home (or main home language), age, immigration status and place of birth.7 Summary tables from the 2006 census are also of help, notably regarding main language of work. Analysis of the data shows that an alternative immigration policy – to be introduced below – would in all likelihood contribute more effectively to the demographic vitality of French in Canada.

Francophone immigration inside and outside Quebec

No matter whether they have French as FOLS or not, the contribution of allophone immigrants to the French-speaking population in the ROC is negligible. Of the 1,372,000 allophone immigrants outside Quebec who had adopted either French or English as main home language in 2006, close to 1,365,000 had chosen English. A little fewer than 8,000 had chosen French. Whence our focus on francophone immigration.

On average, immigrants are slightly less than 30 years old when they arrive in Canada. As a result, the contribution of francophone immigration can best be observed among the population of young francophone adults aged 25 to 34. In 1971, the proportion of immigrants in this population was less than 3 per cent in Quebec and close to 4 per cent in the rest of Canada. By 2001, the corresponding figures were somewhat more than 3 per cent in Quebec and close to 6 per cent in the ROC. During these 30 years, the francophone population outside Quebec almost doubled its advantage over Quebec’s in this respect.

Another approach is to see how many francophone immigrants settle inside and outside Quebec. Of the 47,600 francophones who reported that they had immigrated to Canada during 2001–2006, 80.4 per cent were enumerated in Quebec and 19.6 per cent in the ROC. Since Quebec’s francophones currently weigh in at 85.8 per cent of the total francophone population of Canada, as far as its share of recent francophone immigration to Canada is concerned, Quebec thus appears shortchanged again. If all periods of immigration are combined, Quebec’s share of the Canadian total of 211,000 francophone immigrants in 2006 is even smaller, at 76.4 per cent.

Whichever way one looks at the data, the ROC is already doing better than Quebec in terms of francophone immigration.

The demographic deficit

A population’s intrinsic demographic viability can best be gauged by its reproduction ratio. This is calculated by dividing the number of children aged 0 to 4 by the number of adults in the five-year age group most likely to include the children’s parents.8

According to this ratio, Canada’s anglophone population has no problem reproducing itself. Anglicization of francophones and allophones, whose children are normally anglophones, almost fully makes up for inadequate anglophone fertility. The same is true of Quebec’s anglophone population, whose reproduction ratio in 2006 is close to 1.

The reproduction ratio of Canada’s francophone population is a different matter. In Quebec itself, the francization of allophones is too sparse to make up for the deficit incurred by inadequate francophone fertility. Outside Quebec, the anglicization of young francophone adults, who usually pass on English as mother tongue to their children, makes things even worse. Consequently the deficit between successive generations of francophones at the 2006 census is well over one third in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba, and of the order of 50 per cent or more in the remaining provinces.9

In terms of real numbers, making up for the current intergenerational deficit of Canada’s three major francophone populations would require some 5,000 additional francophone immigrants every five years in New Brunswick, more than 10,000 in Ontario and more than 70,000 in Quebec. In view of these needs, francophone immigration to Canada is too precious to squander.

The impact of migration from Quebec and abroad

Certain provinces such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia often enjoy more favourable economic conditions than others. This attracts not only immigrants but a considerable number of francophones from Quebec as well, who help compensate for the francophone minorities’ demographic deficits.

When they move, interprovincial migrants are only slightly younger on average than immigrants. Accordingly, I compare the percentage of francophones in the ROC aged 25 to 34 who were born in their province with the percentage born in Quebec or abroad. Though the custom tabulation underlying Table 1 is drawn from the 2001 census, the situation it describes remains basically the same today.

Table 1 confirms the contribution of immigration to the francophone populations of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. But it also reveals that the contribution of Quebec francophones is much more significant in all of the provinces as well as in the Territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut combined). In particular, young adults born in Quebec account for one quarter of francophones aged 25 to 34 in Nova Scotia and Ontario, a plurality of those in Newfoundland and Alberta and an absolute majority in B.C.10 We also note that the francophone population in the Territories is essentially made up of transients: all francophones born in the Territories have left for elsewhere by the time they reach 25 to 34 years of age.

The situation is similar in the major urban areas outside Quebec which contain substantial francophone populations. The nine Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) listed in Table 2 together include 85 per cent of all francophones who recently immigrated to the ROC. The contribution of francophone immigrants is strong in the Toronto and Vancouver CMAs, substantial in Calgary and Ottawa and significant in Halifax and Edmonton. But migrants from Quebec are much more important everywhere. They represent a quarter or more of young francophone adults in Ottawa and Edmonton, a plurality in Toronto, Halifax and Calgary and an absolute majority in Vancouver.

The last two CMAs in Table 2 stand out in a special way. Only 13 per cent of young adult francophones in Calgary were born in Alberta and a mere 9 per cent of those in Vancouver were born in B.C. Such figures bear witness to the extremely high anglicization rates which prevail among francophone adults in these two provinces. This translates into intergenerational deficits of the order of two thirds for the francophone populations of both provinces, as very few francophone parents in Alberta and B.C raise their children in French.

A flash in the pan

The extremely low reproduction ratios of the francophone populations in Alberta and B.C., in particular, may appear paradoxical at first glance. One could expect that a strong influx of new francophones from Quebec and abroad would considerably strengthen the overall francophone population’s resistance to anglicization in these provinces. But such is not the case.

For a given francophone minority, assimilation to English among the native-born is generally considered to develop during adolescence; to be in full swing by early adulthood, when individuals leave home to live on their own; and to increase more slowly afterwards, so that further anglicization becomes just about negligible beyond the age of 40 or so.

This model must be delayed somewhat for immigrants and migrants from Quebec, who mostly arrive in the ROC as young adults. Learning English or improving one’s mastery of it, then modifying one’s habits to the point of using English more often than French in the intimacy of one’s home is a process that normally takes several years. To register the full power of attraction of English on immigrant and migrant populations, it is thus necessary to focus on a group that is sufficiently advanced in age.

For this reason, in Table 3 we use francophone adults aged 45 to 54 to compare the assimilating power of English among the native-born with that among migrants from Quebec and abroad. As Newfoundland, PEI and Saskatchewan each had fewer than a hundred francophone immigrants aged 45 to 54 in 2001, and not many more francophone migrants of the same age from Quebec, the comparisons made for these provinces must be considered as highly approximate. Table 3 is again derived from a 2001 census custom tabulation, but preliminary exploration of the 2006 data suggests that the situation described would not be significantly different in 2006.

Table 3 reveals that within a given province, the power of assimilation of English is approximately of the same order among francophones from Quebec and abroad as among the native-born. So much so that with the exception of New Brunswick, anglicization rates of immigrants and Quebec migrants are as a rule higher than 50 per cent.11 This means that right from the very first generation, francophones from Quebec and abroad contribute more to the ROC’s English-speaking population than to its French-speaking population.

One may nevertheless note that in each of the four western provinces the anglicization rate is highest among the francophones born in that province, somewhat lower among francophones born in Quebec and a little lower still among francophones born abroad. Though Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario do not follow this rule, this may be due to the fact that a large share of francophones born in these three provinces live in rural areas where English is less invasive, whereas francophones from Quebec and abroad tend to settle in large urban centres where English holds sway.

It is worth clarifying this point by examining the situation in our nine CMAs where, regardless of their origin, all francophones share a common linguistic environment. As Halifax, Moncton and Sudbury each had only about a hundred francophone immigrants aged 45 to 54 in 2001, anglicization rates for the latter in these three CMAs are highly approximate.

Table 4 shows that in general, within the same linguistic environment, anglicization is indeed highest among francophones born in the province concerned, lower among those born in Quebec and lower still among those born abroad.

This is understandable. As a rule, francophones born in the ROC are exposed to English just about from birth. In contrast, francophones from Quebec have usually spent the first 20 years or so of their lives in a predominantly French-speaking environment. Upon immigrating, francophones from abroad are, on average, a little older still than migrants from Quebec, so that before arriving in the ROC they have normally lived for a few additional years in an environment where French is even less challenged by English than in Quebec.

The expectations raised at the outset of this section are thus to a certain extent borne out. Immigrants and migrants from Quebec do lower somewhat the anglicization rates of the francophone minorities outside Quebec. However, immersion in an English-speaking environment very quickly takes its toll: by the age of 45, francophones from Quebec and abroad contribute more to the English-speaking population than to the French-speaking population in the CMAs beyond the Bilingual Belt. In this regard, Moncton, Ottawa and Sudbury are the only large urban centres where francophone newcomers are more than just a flash in the pan.

Francophone versus allophone behaviour

Comparing the language behaviour of francophone and allophone immigrants in a common environment is also revealing.12

In the three Bilingual Belt CMAs, the anglicization rate of francophone immigrants is much lower in 2006 than that of allophone immigrants. But the rates for both types of immigrants are identical in Halifax and Winnipeg, while the anglicization rate for francophone immigrants is some 10 points higher than that for allophone immigrants in Edmonton, 15 points higher in Toronto, 20 points higher in Calgary and 25 points higher in Vancouver (2001 data point to the same striking conclusion).

However one looks at things, if the contribution of immigration to the francophone populations outside Quebec is to be optimized, the Bilingual Belt stands out as the obvious destination to favour. Like allophones, francophones who immigrate beyond the Belt are evidently more bent on bettering their lot by shifting to English than on bolstering the foundering demographics of the flimsier French-speaking minorities.

Second-generation francophones

In its presentation of the 2006 census data, Statistics Canada has introduced a “generation status” variable based on the place of birth of respondents’ parents.13 The results allow us to investigate language behaviour among second-generation francophones – francophones born in Canada but with at least one parent born abroad.

Second-generation francophones in the ROC generally experience English immersion, so to speak, from birth. Since the anglicization rates of first-generation francophones (francophone immigrants) outside Quebec quickly become almost as high as those of native-born francophones, the anglicization rates of second-generation francophones can be expected to be no different from those of third- (or higher-) generation francophones, that is, francophones born in Canada with both parents born in Canada.

Once again, this can best be tested within a common linguistic environment. Our nine CMAs together contain over half of all second-generation francophones outside Quebec. Anglicization rates for second- and third-generation francophones turn out to be essentially identical in all of them except Ottawa, where the anglicization rate for the second-generation francophones is 10 points higher than for third-generation francophones. As expected, then, by the second generation no trace is left of the slightly greater resistance to anglicization observed among first-generation (immigrant) francophones.

As with the immigrant generation, in the three Bilingual Belt CMAs the anglicization rates of second-generation francophones are much lower than those of second-generation allophones. But in the other six CMAs, the anglicization rates of second-generation francophones and allophones are generally identical. The anglicization rate among second-generation francophones aged 15 years or more in Toronto, for example, was 71 per cent, as compared to 74 per cent among second-generation allophones. In Vancouver, it was 74 per cent among francophones and 73 per cent among allophones.

Combining this information with the results of the previous section, we may conclude that in terms of language behaviour at home, first- and second-generation francophones outside the Bilingual Belt are, at the very least, just as prone as first- and second-generation allophones to assimilate to English.

Language of work in the ROC

The almost universal use of English as language of work is no doubt the principal reason for such widespread adoption of English as main home language among immigrant and second-generation francophones in urban centres beyond the Bilingual Belt. According to the 2006 census, French was the main language of work of only 1 per cent of all workers in the Halifax and Winnipeg CMAs, and of less than 0.5 per cent of workers in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.14

Table 5 documents the widespread use of English as main language of work among employed francophones in particular CMAs. Together, our nine CMAs include three quarters of all immigrant francophone workers outside Quebec in 2006 and 85 per cent of those who immigrated to the ROC during 2001–2006. The scanty number of francophone immigrants in Halifax, Moncton and Sudbury again makes the results for these three CMAs highly approximate.

The use of English as main language of work by francophone workers is the rule even in the Bilingual Belt CMAs. The only exception is for immigrant workers in Sudbury. This may well be due to sampling error, as there were only 180 immigrant francophone workers in Sudbury in 2006. In CMAs outside the Belt, English is the main language of work among the great majority of francophone workers, immigrants and nonimmigrants alike. No wonder, then, that anglicization rates quickly become so high among immigrants and migrants from Quebec in these urban centres.

In almost all of the CMAs in Table 5, the use of English as main language of work is nonetheless somewhat less frequent (and the use of French correspondingly somewhat more frequent) among francophone immigrants than among native-born francophones. This may be because some potential immigrant francophone workers have simply not yet mastered English well enough to find a job, and so are not yet accounted for in Table 5. Also, immigrant francophones can often be more proficient in French than Canadian-born francophones in the ROC, and thus win preference for jobs where a thorough mastery of French is essential, such as in media or teaching professions. Whatever may be the case, it remains that beyond the Bilingual Belt, French is rarely the main language of work among francophone immigrants.

Sense of belonging

Shortly after the 2006 census, Statistics Canada carried out a survey on the linguistic vitality of anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of Canada. The results regarding sense of belonging are perhaps the most telling of the many aspects investigated. Respondents were asked with which language group they identify the most: “to the francophone group only”, “mainly to the francophone group”, “to both groups equally”, “mainly to the anglophone group” or “only to the anglophone group.”

The results for the ROC depict the same situation as the census data on home language and language of work. Francophones in New Brunswick identified much more strongly with the francophone group than with the anglophone group, especially in the north and the southeast (including Moncton) – the Bilingual Belt portion of the province. In Ontario, francophones in the east (including Ottawa) and the northeast (including Sudbury) – again, regions within the Belt – also identified mainly with the francophone group, albeit to a lesser degree than francophones in New Brunswick.15

Elsewhere in Ontario (including Toronto), as well as in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, francophones identified somewhat more with the anglophone group than with the francophone group. Francophones in the remaining western provinces clearly identified themselves more strongly with the anglophone group, while francophones’ sense of belonging was about equally split between the anglophone and francophone groups in the remaining Maritime provinces.

In sum, a distinctly francophone identity remains well rooted solely in the Bilingual Belt portions of the ROC. Their francophone populations are the only ones to offer a sound enough stock upon which francophone immigration can be viably grafted.

How to best manage a scarce resource

Actually, the picture was clear right from the start, at the time the reality of the Bilingual Belt was first recognized. It has simply become clearer with the passage of time and the accumulation of evidence. Outside Quebec, it is just within the Bilingual Belt regions of New Brunswick and Ontario that the retention of French as main home language remains reasonably high, that francophones retain a sufficiently distinct identity and that French still pays off enough in the workplace.

The national unity imperative has no doubt clouded perception of this reality. Saving face vis-à-vis public opinion in Quebec by keeping francophone numbers afloat at all cost in the ROC has led, among other things, to the giddy concept of “sustainable assimilation,” that is, “the rate of assimilation compatible with a sustainable minority community.”16 Presumably, even an assimilation rate of 90 per cent can be “sustained” if a sufficiently large stream of francophone immigrants is steadily poured into the linguistic melting pot. The problem with a contrivance of this kind is that it does nothing to enhance the long-term viability of French in Canada. The contribution of immigration to the francophone populations beyond the Bilingual Belt is ephemeral.

Nor should the needs of Quebec be ignored. As we have seen, Quebec is not receiving its fair share of francophone immigration to Canada. And Quebec francophones have just been jolted by a sharp drop during 2001–2006 in their share of the population in the Montreal CMA as well as in the entire province.17

This is not merely due to allophone immigration. Anglophone immigration to Quebec has helped the anglophone and English-speaking shares of Quebec’s population remain stable during 2001–2006, giving English the edge over French in both respects. Despite Quebec’s continued efforts to recruit more francophone immigrants, the recent contribution of immigration to the province’s anglophone minority was, proportionally speaking, more than double its contribution to the francophone majority.18

In stark contrast to the situation for French in the ROC, net francization of anglophone immigrants in La Belle Province is nonexistent, so that anglophone immigration contributes in full measure to the English-speaking population of Quebec as well. Indeed, the 2001–2006 growth rates of the anglophone and English-speaking populations alike were higher in Montreal and in the province than those of the francophone and French-speaking populations. Given the new state of affairs, it is conceivable that more may be done to foster Canadian unity by encouraging francophone immigration to Quebec rather than to massively English-speaking destinations in the ROC.

The overarching objective of any policy on francophone immigration should be to sustain a viable francophone population in Canada as a whole. Since francophone immigrants are in relatively rare supply, they should be guided toward the francophone populations that have the highest linguistic vitality but, at the same time, face the greatest intergenerational deficits in terms of real numbers. This means toward Quebec and the Bilingual Belt portions of New Brunswick and Ontario.

In his recent round of consultations, Bernard Lord failed to address this issue.19 The cosmetic use of francophone immigration to maintain the illusion of viable francophone minorities coast to coast to coast nonetheless boils down to wasting a precious resource. Canadian language policy needs to face up to reality.

Continue reading “Francophone Immigration Beyond the Bilingual Belt”