I'd like to call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 20 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.
The committee is meeting today to discuss its study entitled “Government Measures to Protect and Promote French in Quebec and in Canada”.
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I would now like to welcome our witness.
I would like to say to Mr. Jean-Pierre Corbeil that he will have seven and a half minutes for his statement, to be followed by a round of questions from members of the committee.
As usual, I have a yellow card to signal to witnesses that they have a minute left. I use a red card to let them know that their time is up.
We the committee members now welcome Mr. Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Assistant Director, Diversity and Sociocultural Statistics, at Statistics Canada.
Mr. Corbeil, you have the floor for seven and a half minutes.
I would like to thank the committee members for inviting Statistics Canada to appear before them to provide input into their study on the measures the Government of Canada can take to protect and promote French in Canada.
My brief presentation will cover three key points. First, I will talk about different indicators and concepts that are used to track the evolution of French in Canada. Second, I will describe some of the issues and challenges specific to the state of French outside Quebec, as well as in Quebec. Lastly, I will conclude my presentation with a list of other topics requiring more in-depth analysis that needs to factor in the growing complexity of language dynamics and multilingualism in Canada, and particularly in Quebec.
First of all, what do we mean by the state of French in Canada? There are actually a number of indicators and concepts that are used to track its evolution. For example, there are traditional ones that look at the change in the size and proportion of the population with French as its mother tongue, the population with French as the main language used at home, and the population that knows French well enough to have a conversation.
And while statistics on the use of French in the private sphere are very useful and reveal multiple facets of linguistic diversity, language policies, charters and legislation focus on the public sphere. In this vein, it is very important and useful to collect and publish information on the language of work and on language practices in different areas of public life, such as language of instruction, day care centres, cultural activities, public signage, communications with and services offered to communities, to name a few.
Faced with this wide array of indicators, we want to know which one or ones will be considered most important or will best reflect what we call the state and evolution of French. The findings on the status of French could also differ based on whether only one indicator or several non mutually exclusive indicators were used.
Two indicators traditionally used to monitor the evolution of French outside Quebec—mother tongue and first official language spoken—reveal that the French-language population continues to grow in number, but decrease in proportion. The same observation was made for the population that reported being able to have a conversation in French.
Moreover, the population that speaks French predominantly at home is declining in number and proportion, while the population that uses it equally with English or as a secondary language is growing. Similarly, the population that predominantly uses French at work has dropped in number and proportion in favour of the population that uses French and English equally in the workplace.
Of course, it is perilous to speak only to a global analysis without taking into account the great diversity of situations and contexts, depending upon whether one resides in the Atlantic provinces, in Ontario or in the western provinces, in rural areas or in larger urban centres.
In addition, some less frequently used indicators testify to the fact that the picture is not all negative. For example, over the last 10 years for which data are available, the number of enrolments in a French-language minority school has grown by 17% to reach nearly 171,000 students. Likewise, the number of young people who registered in the French immersion program in Canada has increased by nearly 70% since the very first action plan for official languages began in 2003, reaching nearly 478,000 students during the year 2018-19.
However, several studies have documented the fact that the main issue in this area concerns the retention of second language skills and the opportunities to maintain them over time.
Two other considerable issues are hindering the growth of French in Canada outside Quebec. The large-scale study entitled “Language Projections for Canada, 2011 to 2036,” which Statistics Canada published in 2017, shows to what extent major changes in the number of French-language immigrants would be required to stabilize the demographic weight of the francophone population. What's more, incomplete transmission of French from one generation to the next, combined with a low fertility rate and weak status of French in many regions of the country are impeding the growth of the French-language population.
In Quebec, the presence and use of French, and how it has evolved, is complex and multifaceted. For example, census data on mother tongue or main language used at home are generally used to show how French in Quebec has changed. We know that immigration is the main driver of population growth and that the vast majority of these immigrants—more than 7 in 10, in fact—have neither English nor French as their mother tongue. In addition, of the roughly 180,000 new immigrants in the Montreal area at the last census, more than half spoke another language most often at home.
Finally, of the approximately 1.1 million immigrants who were living in Quebec in 2016, 55% reported speaking more than one language at home.
Are these statistics automatically indicative of the decline of French in favour of English in Quebec? Not necessarily, because the reality is much more complex.
For example, in the last census, of the roughly 230,000 workers in the greater Montreal area who spoke a language other than English or French most often at home, close to 46% used French most often at work and another 18% used it equally with English.
As well, between 2006 and 2016, the predominant use of English at work by workers whose mother tongue was English fell by 6 percentage points, and by 7 percentage points among workers in the “other” mother tongue category, in favour of the predominant use of French or equal use of French and English. In contrast, a decrease in the predominant use of French was observed among workers whose mother tongue was French, in favour of equal use of French and English.
According to the Office québécois de la langue française, there was an increase in bilingual greetings by clerks in Montreal stores between 2010 and 2017, but the option for service in French remained stable at 95%.
Finally, of the approximately 6,000 French-mother-tongue McGill University students who graduated between 2010 and 2015, more than 80% reported speaking French most often at home in the last census. These are just some examples of the complexity of language dynamics in Quebec.
Before I conclude, I'd like to say that in addition to the information on French as a mother tongue and as the main language used at home, it is important to delve deeper into a number of dynamics and dimensions on the evolution of the situation of French.
In Quebec, for example, which specific factors account for the increase in English–French bilingualism in the workplace? What is the role of industry sectors involved in commercial trade with the rest of the country or internationally?
A more in-depth analysis of these issues is absolutely necessary, especially considering the growing importance of exports of goods and services from Quebec's high-technology and knowledge industries. In addition, a better understanding is required of the obvious under-representation of populations with an immigrant background in provincial, regional and local public administrations, and in Crown corporations in the greater Montreal area, sectors where the use of French is rather widespread.
There also seems to be an urgent need to better understand the role of language and educational paths, on the one hand, and the language used in the public sphere in Quebec, on the other.
Furthermore, given the increasing complexity of language dynamics and a rise in multilingualism at home in the Montreal area, the traditional indicators of “mother tongue” and “language spoken most often at home,” including a focus on language transfers, need to be revisited and better integrated with other language practice indicators to develop a more complete portrait of the evolution of French in Quebec.
In Canada outside Quebec, some of the topics requiring more comprehensive analysis include the transmission of French to children; the retention of language proficiency among young people whose second language is French; a better understanding of the issues and obstacles that impede the growth, integration and inclusion of highly ethnoculturally diverse francophone immigrants; and a better understanding of the barriers and opportunities of French educational paths from preschool to university.
To conclude, the data to be collected in the 2021 Census of Population this coming May and in the Survey on the Official Language Minority Population in 2022 will be combined with data from other administrative sources and from surveys to build a rich data ecosystem, which will help to enhance our understanding of the complex dynamics of the situation of French in the country.
Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you. That's a good question.
It's clear that if we track the evolution since the 2021 census, and disregard the extent to which the censuses are comparable, what we see is aging populations, particularly in the Atlantic provinces. In New Brunswick, for example, the population as a whole declined between 2011 and 2016, and not only the French-language population.
There are specific challenges. For example, there has been considerable anglicization in the Atlantic provinces. The percentage of francophones who use English more often at home is very high. Of course, there are enormous variations in terms of the demographic weight represented by these populations.
In Ontario, we need only look at Toronto, where there is no real concentration of francophones at all. There are many French speakers, but not compared to the Ottawa or northern Ontario regions.
This has progressed a great deal over time, but not only as a function of migration. The Atlantic provinces attract very few French-language immigrants. Most settle in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, among others. Here again, it's all a matter of concentration.
When we talk about the evolution of French, it's important to consider the factors that contribute to population evolution generally. There are two key factors. Immigration was already mentioned, but there is also interprovincial migration. In New Brunswick, for example, the situation is rather unique, with a high level of out-of-province mobility among highly educated French-language people.
In northern New Brunswick, it's hard to retain immigrants. For economic or socioeconomic reasons, they prefer to move outside the province. Some regions receive very few people as a result of international immigration or interprovincial migration. Even in Ontario, this can be seen clearly. Schools are closing in the north of this province whereas the schools are full in the southwest
Migration therefore plays an extremely important role. In some communities, the concentration of francophones is higher. In such cases, the vitality of French is no doubt stronger and better than in regions that receive very few people who migrate there, and hence the population is aging generally and needs to cope with the exodus of younger generations.
Thank you for your question.
Of course the demographic projections are based on hypotheses and scenarios. We have developed a good many such scenarios by factoring in trends observed over the previous 15 years before the 2011 census or the National Household Survey. By using these and closely examining these trends, we can achieve an in-depth analysis through what we call microsimulation. We assign a probability to every Canadian, of experiencing an event in the course of their existence, which is to migrate, learn a language, give birth to a child, or something else. We know, for example, that people who have just had a child are less likely to move to another province for a number of years. All of this is taken into account. It's extremely complex.
However, given that the mother tongue of most of the immigrants who come to Quebec is neither English nor French, it's not surprising to see that French as a mother tongue should be decreasing significantly in that province. That was among the important results we observed. There was a major increase in the number of English-language immigrants in recent years in Quebec. Even taking the relative weight into her account, it would appear that generally speaking, more immigrants tend to adopt English than French. Ultimately, it means that these immigrants will increasingly tend to use English than French.
However, contrary to what many people might think, on Montreal Island, a steady 66% of the population reported their first spoken official language to be French. We are not necessarily expecting a decrease, because there is a growing percentage of migration on Montreal Island tending towards the crown. On the other hand, there is a significant increase in the English-language population in Laval and on the South Shore. This naturally contributes to a decline in the relative weight of French as the language spoken at home.
Don't forget—and this is no doubt the most serious challenge that leads us to examine the various indicators—that the language transfers for the other mother-tongue population is not strong enough to offset the growth of this population over the long term.
I now call the meeting back to order.
The committee is meeting today to discuss its study entitled "Government Measures to Protect and Promote French in Quebec and in Canada".
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses.
Before speaking, wait until I mention your name. When you are ready to speak, click on the microphone icon to activate your mic.
I will remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
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I would now like to warmly welcome our witnesses this evening.
You will each have seven and a half minutes to give your statement. I will advise you when you have a minute left, and the red card will indicate that your time is up. The committee members are well aware of this procedure.
This evening we have, as individuals, Mr. Charles Castonguay, retired professor, and Mr. Patrick Sabourin, doctor in demography.
I will give the floor first to Mr. Castonguay for seven and a half minutes.
Mr. Castonguay, you have the floor.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Our language policies are failing to preserve both Canada's English-French linguistic duality and the French character of Quebec itself. My conclusion is based on close to a half-century of census data.
First, I'll say a word on why our language policies are failing us. The more a minority language group is concentrated within a given territory, the better it resists assimilation to the majority language. A language policy aimed at preserving the French-speaking component of Canada's population should therefore have aimed first and foremost at maintaining and promoting the French character of the province of Quebec.
Canada's Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism rejected such an approach. It opted instead for individual freedom of choice between two official languages and for the free circulation of individuals from coast to coast, unhindered by any linguistic measures that might possibly restrict such mobility. This kind of linguistic free trade principle has guided Canada's language policy ever since.
It is a striking fact that at the same time, Quebec's Gendron commission was grappling with how to ensure the free circulation of unilingual French-speaking Quebeckers within Quebec, which was gravely impeded by the domination of English in Montreal's work world. Quebec, therefore, opted for a policy with French as sole official language and with a Charter of the French Language geared to make French the default language of public communication between all Quebeckers, including at work.
Conflict was inevitable between Canada's free trade “official language of your choice” policy and Quebec's protectionist “one official and common language” approach. The outcome was equally inevitable. The courts have left precious little of Quebec's charter intact. This has had dire consequences for French in Quebec, and automatically for French in Canada as a whole.
Now I will turn to some statistics. The French mother-tongue component of Canada's population plummeted from 29% in 1951 to 21%, according to the last census, that of 2016. Since Canada's Official Languages Act, the percentage of Canadians speaking French as their main home language has declined just as rapidly. In contrast, Canada's English-speaking component has just about held its own.
The crushingly superior power of assimilation of English is the principal explanation for this. The assimilation of Canada's French mother-tongue population to English as their main home language increased steadily from less than 300,000 in 1971 to over 400,000 in 2016. At the same time, the assimilation of non-official mother-tongue Canadians to English rose from 1.2 million in 1971 to 2.7 million at the last census, whereas their assimilation to French has reached a mere quarter million, a large number of whom derive from Quebec's selection of immigrants who had adopted French as their main home language abroad before coming to Quebec.
On the whole, the overall gain that English draws from assimilation of all kinds in Canada increased from less than 1.5 million persons in 1971 to over three million in 2016. French, by contrast, still remains mired in an overall loss, due to assimilation, in the order of 180,000 at the last census.
At the level of Canada as a whole, therefore, Canada's language policy and Quebec's sorely weakened charter have, taken together, in no way stopped the erosion of Canada's French-speaking component.
Lately, things are not any rosier for French in Quebec. Indeed, between 2001 and 2016, the last 15 years, Quebec's French-speaking majority has plunged at record speed to a record low. In contrast, in Quebec, for the first time in census history, English has roughly maintained its weight in Quebec as a mother tongue, and increased its weight somewhat in terms of the main home language.
The most stunning development is on Montreal Island, where French mother tongue youth have become more bilingual than their English counterparts and are now adopting English as the main home language at the rate of 6%.
As for the rest of Canada, the anglicization rate of the French mother tongue population outside Quebec has steadily increased, from 27% in 1971 to 40% in 2016.
The most eloquent evidence of the failure of Canada's language policy is, however, the anglicization rate of Francophones in Canada's very capital. It has exactly doubled since Canada's initial Official Languages Act, rising from 17% to 34%. It even topped 40% in 2016 among the capital's younger French mother tongue adults, a proven forerunner of greater anglicization yet to come.
It is high time, therefore, to aim Canada's language policy more squarely at preventing further erosion of Canada's fading linguistic duality.
Good evening to everyone. I'd like to thank the committee for having invited me.
I'd like to begin by pointing out that I'm appearing here as an individual, a scientist, a demographer and a citizen who is concerned about the future of the French language.
My comments will address the first part of the study's mandate, which is to paint an objective and detailed picture of the state of French and English in Quebec. I will therefore briefly present the outcome of my research work on the demographic future of the French language in Canada.
However, before beginning, I would like to inform the committee that the correspondence I received calling the witnesses contains some French mistakes and several examples of what Gaston Miron called "traduidu," or "translated from," which is to say sentences that look like French, but that can only be understood properly by reading the English version.
I'm not pointing this out because I'm a language purist. You'll never see me out marching on behalf of proper French or abolishing the Radio Radio group. However, the federal government, owing to its institutional status and its claims with respect to bilingualism, needs to set a proper example, particularly when dealing with the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
A living language is one that looks at reality without any filters that might be imposed by another language. If French is nothing more than a translation language, and if it can only truly remain alive within the federal government, how can the government have the moral authority to defend the cause of the French language across Canada?
As Professor Charles Castonguay has already demonstrated, French is declining in Quebec and Canada, and has been for quite a while.
The decline has been accelerating in Quebec since the early 2000s. In my brief address, I would like to place an emphasis on the causes of this decline and on future prospects.
First of all, when we speak of decline, we're talking about a reduction in the demographic weight of francophones compared to other language groups. As the comparative weight of French diminishes, the less competitive it becomes, demographically speaking, by which I mean that there will be fewer people speaking French, lower demand for services in French, fewer opportunities to work in French, fewer immigrants who have the opportunity or the desire to live alongside francophones, and other similar considerations.
In Canada, the main consideration is the relative weight of French compared to English, because these two languages are in competition with one another. The two languages are official throughout Canada, and the language choice is left up to each individual. This is called the personality principle.
There are other forms of linguistic organization that limit such competition. In Switzerland, for example, the place of residence determines what languages are used. This is called a territoriality principle. Competition between languages is limited to certain zones that are designated bilingual.
Let's move on to the decline of French and the demographic system. Demography, basically, is a rather simple discipline. In order to determine how a population is evolving, we need to know what comes in and what goes out. An inflow might be an immigrant or a birth, and an outflow might be a death or an emigrant, which means someone moving out of their region.
When we speak about a language group in demolinguistics, it can also mean entering or leaving a population by changing the language used. It's a bit like moving, but it means moving from one language to another. We call this language substitution.
To anticipate the future, we must begin by understanding the demographic system that has historically determined the language dynamics in Canada. With only seven minutes, all I can do is give a rough approximation, for which I apologize in advance.
Let's go back a bit.
Early in the 20th century, before the Second World War, the baby boom among francophones was called, rightly or not, “the revenge of the cradle”. This advantage was offset by an exodus of francophones to the United States and by cyclical, and heavily anglophone, European and British immigration, particularly outside Quebec.
The baby boom was followed by a baby bust, meaning that fertility dropped rapidly, and this definitively counterbalanced the francophone birth rate. However, the significant exodus of anglophones from Quebec that began in the 1970s contributed to maintaining the demographic weight of French. This was the period of the referendums, which continued until the mid-1990s.
As of the 1990s, immigration rates began to increase dramatically and have remained among the highest levels in the world, at approximately twice the level for the United States. Immigration is becoming less European and increasingly diversified. During this period, the fertility rate among Canadians and Quebeckers has remained well below the replacement level. Anglophones continued to move, but not to the same extent as during the referendum years. Fewer of them were leaving Quebec. As a consequence, the decline of French has been accelerating, as demonstrated by Mr. Castonguay.
The table has been set for the future. Over the coming decades, there will be a low birth rate and upward pressure on immigration thresholds. In Canada outside Quebec, the linguistic assimilation of francophones will likely continue.
Because the fertility rate for francophones is very close to the rate for anglophones, potential for growth in both groups will basically come from immigration.
To maintain the language balance, French will have to be able to recruit immigrants whose language matches its demographic weight in terms of Canada's official languages, which is approximately 90% in Quebec.
Language substitutions are distributed approximately equally. In Canada outside Quebec, all substitutions are to English, but in Quebec, they are approximately equal.
If this proportion has increased over the past few decades, it's largely due to an increase in francophone immigration. The status and appeal of French in Quebec have made little headway, and language substitutions towards French have been levelling out. The lower appeal of French in Quebec has thus been concealed by two phenomena, the strong propensity of anglophones to leave Quebec, which increased the weight of francophones, and the selection of French-speaking immigrants from abroad, which gave the impression that these immigrants were learning French locally. The impact of both of these phenomena will tend to diminish.
With due regard to all these factors, we can project that French will decline just about everywhere in Canada and Quebec in the short and medium term. There is no point to burying yourself under a mountain of numbers. I'll mention just two important facts derived from my doctoral work. First of all, outside Quebec, French is declining both relatively and absolutely. The demographic weight of francophones will diminish and there will be fewer and fewer francophones. The decline is essentially the outcome of demographic aging and linguistic assimilation.
In Quebec, the decline of French is relative, which is to say that the demographic weight of French is diminishing compared to English. Overall, there is anglicization and linguistic polarization in Canada. Anglicization is occurring because French has lost ground just about everywhere, and polarization because francophones will become increasingly concentrated in Quebec, outside the Montreal census metropolitan area.
It's also important to give consideration to the fact that the changes expected at the federal and provincial levels are hiding local changes that are even more significant. For example, the Montreal suburbs have been mutating for 10 or 15 years now, and this mutation—
Thanks to the witnesses for being with us this evening.
I'll ask my questions right off the bat since we don't have a lot of time. I wanted to go back to immigration. Mr. Sabourin, perhaps you could answer first.
Mr. Castonguay, I understand the immigration question. Sometimes people don't see it, but I myself am an immigrant, and I learned French. As I always say, I'm a Bill 101 girl. Apart from Quebec, I also lived in Vancouver, where I attended a French immersion school. I'm certain that the future of French will be secured by francophone immigration, but also by better francization.
We heard from Senator Serge Joyal as part of this study last week. He told us that the demographic issue was important to the future of our francophone demography, as well as the birth rate relative to the immigration rate.
Do you agree with this principle of more targeted francophone immigration, particularly outside Quebec? Do we perhaps need more targeted immigration in Quebec's regions, and should we ensure that more extensive francization is done, particularly in economic immigration, which we also need in Quebec?
What do you say, Mr. Sabourin?
I too want to thank our two witnesses.
Mr. Castonguay and Mr. Sabourin, thank you for being with us this evening.
Mr. Sabourin, you're the lucky one; my question is for you.
Earlier we heard the testimony of our statistician, Mr. Corbeil, who told us about language projections for Canada and provided us with a document on the study period from 2011 to 2036.
According to that document, French is declining across the country, including in Quebec. It also includes projections for Quebec's anglophone minority. The report states that the decline is due in particular to increased immigration and that mother tongues and official languages, including English and French, are declining in favour of other mother tongues. I'd like to have your opinion on that subject.
First, what do you think of those projections?
Second, what can you say about the decline of English in Quebec?
And, third, more precisely, to what do you attribute that decline?