Francophones have little reason to fret so

Don't worry, be happy

A new survey has revealed a distinct hardening in francophone attitudes about English and anglophones. This alarming trend has to do, we believe, with inaccurate perceptions, which need to be cleared up before they fester any further.
The headline story from the survey was in yesterday's Gazette: 87 per cent of francophones now agree with the assertion that "The French language is threatened in Montreal." That's up from 79 per cent in 2007, the last time the question was asked. And 43 per cent of francophones said French is threatened even in the rest of Quebec, outside Montreal.
But the poll, conducted last month by the reputable Léger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies and the Quebec Community Groups Network, also posed other questions about language and the anglophone community, to 1,003 respondents across Quebec. The changes in opinion since 2007 are disquieting.
Francophone respondents, presented with certain statements, agreed in 2009 in the percentages listed here:
Anglophones contribute in an important way to the economy of the province: 74 per cent agreed (down from 87 per cent in 2007).
Anglophones speak satisfactory French: 36 per cent agreed (down from 44).
Anglophones are too aggressive in their demands: 45 per cent agreed (up from 39).
Anglophones should be better represented in the Quebec public service: 22 per cent agreed (down from 38 ).
Anglophones recognize that they are a minority: 34 per cent agreed (down from 40).
There is too much English spoken in Quebec: 66 per cent agreed (up from 43).
Figures like these are leading indicators of renewed language tension, because they will embolden hardline nationalists to continue demonizing English and to demand changes in law and practice, further restricting English.
What can have caused this sudden chilling increase in resistance to the presence of the English language in Quebec? The "angryphone" movement is (fortunately) long gone. Broadly speaking anglos are, we believe, more bilingual than ever - and are clamouring, the Quebec Community Groups Network tells us, for still more and better instruction in French. No constitutional crisis has been roiling the linguistic waters. French is increasingly accepted as the "langue commune" of public life.
Against all these indicators of Quebec's solid and enduring "French-ness" we can find only one non-issue: the alleged decline of French in Montreal. And this, as we have noted very often, is self-selection: Francophones, in much greater proportion than anglophones or allophones, choose to move to the rapidly growing off-island suburbs that ring the Island. Metropolitan Montreal, taken all together, is undergoing no decline in Frenchness.
Why are francophones moving off-island at a faster rate? Economically, they might be better able to do so than allophones. And culturally they find it easier to move into heavily-francophone regions than anglophones might do.
But as long as Montreal Island remains economically and culturally vibrant, it will be the irreplaceable nucleus of the metropolis, and that, buttressed by Quebec's Charter of the French Language, will keep Montreal, too, predominantly French in culture, whatever languages are spoken in Montreal's apartments, condos, and houses.
Certain tendentious statisticians have managed to scratch a tender spot of francophone language sensitivity until now it is beginning to bleed, but any fair-minded analysis will find no crisis, not even a cause for significant concern, in Montreal's demographics.
The indefatigable Jack Jedwab, of the Association for Canadian Studies, argues that anglophone and francophone community leaders need to demonstrate to the public what the facts really are. We agree heartily.
The Quebec government, meanwhile, could take steps to reverse the francophone exodus from Montreal by braking off-island infrastructure growth while facilitating improved services - and lower property taxes - on-island.
Public opinion is hardening against anglophones mainly on the basis of inaccurate perceptions. Quebecers have enough problems without a new round of squabbles based on a manufactured and spurious language crisis.

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