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.


1 Graham Fraser, Sorry, I Don’t Speak French: Confronting the Canadian Crisis That Won’t Go Away (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2006), p. 255.

2 Graham Fraser, Annual Report 2006–2007 (Ottawa: Commissioner of Official Languages, 2007), p. 14; Standing Committee on Official Languages, Communities Speak Out: Hear Our Voice. The Vitality of Official Language Minority Communities (Ottawa, 2007), pp. 82–89.

3 More precisely, beyond Quebec the Bilingual Belt includes all counties in northern and southeastern New Brunswick and in eastern and northeastern Ontario in which francophones make up ten per cent of the population or more. See Richard J. Joy, Languages in Conflict: The Canadian Experience (Ottawa: Author, 1967 and Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1972).

4 Dyane Adam, Annual Report 1999–2000 and Annual Report 2000–2001 (Ottawa: Commissioner of Official Languages, 2000 and 2001), pp. 5 and 58–61 respectively.

5 Jack Jedwab, Immigration and the Vitality of Canada’s Official Language Communities: Policy, Demography and Identity (Ottawa: Commissioner of Official Languages, 2002), pp. 47, 22.

6 Carsten Quell, Official Languages and Immigration: Obstacles and Opportunities for Immigrants and Communities (Ottawa: Commissioner of Official Languages, 2002), pp. 5–6, 60; Dyane Adam, “L’immigration et la francophonie canadienne,” Francophonies d’Amérique, Vol. 16 (2003), pp. 27–35.

7 Such detailed information is necessarily derived from the 20 per cent sample data. Sampling error makes the results highly approximate for small populations.

8 Women tend to bear children relatively late in life nowadays, so that for the 2006 census data the five-year age group from 28 to 32 best approximates the parents’ age group.

9 A deficit between successive generations occurs when the reproduction ratio is less than 1. For example, the reproduction ratio of Ontario’s francophone population in 2006 is 0.63. Its intergenerational deficit is consequently 0.37, or 37 per cent.

10 Francophones born elsewhere in Canada make up the missing percentages in Table 1. For example, 31 per cent of francophones aged 25 to 34 in Alberta were born in Canada but not in Alberta or Quebec.

11 The anglicization rate equals the net number of francophones aged 45–54 who have adopted English as main home language (the number of francophones who have adopted English minus the number of anglophones who have adopted French), divided by the total number of francophones aged 45–54.

12 The necessary data for immigrants aged 15 or more at the latest census are supplied by the 2006 census summary table 97-555-XCB 2006042, available for free on Statistics Canada’s website.

13 See 2006 census summary table 97-555-XCB 2006042.

14 Figures in this section are based on the 2006 census summary table 97-555-XCB2006033.

15 Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Claude Grenier and Sylvie Lafrenière, Minorities Speak Up: Results of the Survey on the Vitality of Official-Language Minorities (Ottawa: StatisticsCanada, 2007), pp. 11–13 and 99–100.

16 Michael O’Keefe, Francophone Minorities: Assimilation and Community Vitality (Ottawa: Canadian Heritage, 1998), p. 44.

17 Statistics Canada, The Evolving Linguistic Portrait, 2006 Census (Ottawa, 2007), pp. 20–23.

18 The 2006 census enumerated 38,300 francophones and 9,200 anglophones in Quebec who had immigrated during 2001–2006. This is a ratio of just over four to one. But the ratio between Quebec’s francophone and anglophone populations is close to ten to one. Whence an advantage in relative terms of well over two to one for anglophone immigration to Quebec over francophone immigration.

19 Bernard Lord, Report on the Government of Canada’s Consultations on Linguistic Duality and Official Languages (Ottawa: Canadian Heritage, 2008).

* Throughout this article, the suffix –phone refers to mother tongue. A francophone is a person whose mother tongue is French, an anglophone is a person whose mother tongue is English and an allophone is a person whose mother tongue is any other language. By French-speaking I mean a person who reports speaking French most often at home at the time of the census. Similarly, an English-speaking person is one whose current main home language is English.