JEFF HEINRICH, The Gazette - Quebec is taking in five times more bilingual French- and English-speaking immigrants than it did a decade ago, according to data compiled by the federal Citizenship and Immigration Department.
Belying the impression the province is becoming more and more French, the rising number of bilingual newcomers is actually making Montreal - where most settle - an increasingly bilingual city, an analysis by the Association for Canadian Studies suggests.
In a study issued today, the Montreal think tank also found that Quebec - like the rest of Canada - is accepting far fewer immigrants who speak neither official language: 23 per cent of all immigrants in 2006, compared with 43 per cent in 1997, a drop of almost half.
That decline was offset by the increased numbers of immigrants who know English and French. Bilingual immigrants rose to 15,098, or 34 per cent of the total, in 2006 from 3,013, or 11 per cent, in 1997, a five-fold increase.
The trend comes as the Quebec government prepares to hold public hearings in September on future immigration levels.
The government wants to swell Quebec with more newcomers able to speak French - they now number only about one in four.
If the trend continues, Quebec will get those French-speaker, but they'll likely speak English as well, the think tank notes.
And, it said, this "substantial increase will heighten the bilingualism in Montreal."
In the rest of Canada over the last five years, the federal data also show the Immigration Department has done right to accept fewer immigrants with no knowledge of French or English.
By reducing their number and, hence, the language barrier, it has given immigrants a better start in their new society, especially in the labour market, where knowledge of French or English is essential to finding a good job, the study says.
Ironically, "Quebec's emphasis on (the French) language no doubt influenced the federal approach to giving increased significance to (the English) language as a factor in immigrant selection," says the analysis by association executive director Jack Jedwab.
From a high of 46 per cent in 2002, the percentage of new immigrants to Canada knowing neither official language dropped to 33 per cent in 2006.
The data also show Ottawa's campaign since 2004 to attract more French-speaking immigrants to provinces other than Quebec - to boost dwindling francophone communities in provinces like Manitoba - has worked and has not undermined Quebec's own efforts to recruit such immigrants.
Knowledge of English by new immigrants across Canada is on the rise, too. Since 2002, percentages of English-only immigrants have gone up nearly 10 percentage points in almost every province. They now represent the majority of new immigrants in every province except Quebec.
In Canada overall, English-only speakers made up 53 per cent of the total in 2006, compared to 43 per cent in 2002. In Ontario, the proportion was even higher: 63 per cent vs. 51 per cent only five years before.
Even in Quebec, the percentage of English-only immigrants grew: they now represent about 20 per cent, up from 16 per cent in 2001.
Of all the provinces, only officially bilingual New Brunswick has seen its proportion of bilingual immigrants decline since 2002: they now stand at seven per cent, down from 16 per cent in 2004 and nine per cent in 2002.
And in oil-rich Alberta, where seldom is heard a francophone word, the booming economy seems to be attracting more French-speaking immigrants along with everyone else: there are now 1.3 per cent in all, double the proportion in 2002.
MORE AND MORE BILINGUALISM IN QUEBEC
In the past decade, the number of bilingual French - and English-speaking immigrants to Quebec has grown fivefold. Here are the percentages:
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Facts and Figures, 2007
Bilingualism on rise in Quebec
Immigrants spur growth. More anglo newcomers, too, study finds