The Gazette October 28, 2010 Sovereignist leaders know they can stir up votes by stirring up emotions over language. Accordingly, we hear an endless self-serving drumbeat of nationalist alarmism about French being "in danger," at least in Montreal.
In his thoughtful essay on the facing page Tuesday, our colleague David Johnston pointed out that this "problem" is really a by-product of the success of Bill 101, and of free choice among francophones, and of something that's happening in metropolitan areas around the world.
None of these factors can, or should, be reversed. Let's look at them one by one to see why not:
First, the paradox: Montreal is becoming (slowly and slightly) more English, in a sense, because Bill 101 has made it, well, incontournable to speak French if you work or live here. Anglos who resented or resisted left long ago. Those who remained began demanding more and better French immersion in the schools. And as the established anglophone community became more bilingual, out-migration dwindled.
Add some inflow from elsewhere in Canada (where French in schools has improved) plus some inflow of anglophones from the U.S. and overseas (whose kids go to French school), and you get a growing anglo population -of people who speak more and better French!
Second, free choice: Francophone families
are leaving Montreal Island at a much higher rate than anglophone/allophone families, and so Montreal Island is now just under 50 per cent francophone, although the metropolitan area is still solidly two-to-one francophone.
The reasons for "franco flight" are a topic for another day, but surely language by itself
is not paramount, or even high on the list.
Third, a global phenomenon: Globalization
has an unofficial "official language" and we all know what it is. Head offices, branch plants, international organizations, research networks, academic institutions, global trade, all demand a workforce that can speak English, plus other languages. As Johnston noted, refusing to be a global metropolis is just stupid.
Fortunately we believe that more and more francophones are coming to see that English is today an opportunity more than a threat. Naturally, francophones want their language and culture to endure and flourish. The challenge is to find the "sweet spot" where Quebec can have the best of both worlds, and to explain that to the public.
Unfortunately this is not a campaign anglophones can carry out. But we believe that increasingly, francophones are sensing the wisdom expressed well by Gaetan Frigon, former boss of the Societe des alcools du Quebec and of Loto-Quebec, in a piece in La Presse last month: Francophones, he wrote, now must "put aside the idea that English is the symbol of British domination, and embrace English, since it has become the only international language." The alternative, he said, would be a "francophone ghetto with no future."
How can Quebec move to a more sophisticated consensus on language? Brent Tyler, in a French-language radio appearance last week, argued that instead of restrictive policies, the government should seek ways to bolster the prestige of French.
That would certainly be more promising than the mean-spirited Bill 115, and far better than what the Parti Quebecois is talking about, with increasing vindictive stridency, such as closing English CEGEPs to most francophones and allophones. And what kind of panic-mongering led the PQ's Pierre Curzi to try to equate Bill 103/115 with the War Measures Act?
By continuing to fight the last war, the sovereignists are turning their backs on the way the world is changing. But they can't keep peddling false fears forever.
Consensus on language needs modernizing
The problem with language policy in Quebec today -well, OK, one of the problems -is that it's often more cheap politics than sound policy.