So an unpublished study for the Quebec government's language board, the Office québécois de la langue française, says people whose mother tongue is French now are in the minority on Montreal Island.
Well, so what?
In the first place, we've known that since last month, when Statistics Canada first reported that the proportion of mother-tongue francophones on the island had dipped to 49.8 per cent.
And in the second place, it doesn't matter.
Even the author of the 2006 study, demographer Marc Termote, says the decline in the proportion of the island's population that speaks French at home doesn't mean Montreal is becoming anglicized, as reported by Cyberpresse blogger Patrick Lagacé.
And, Termote told the Université de Montréal's weekly Le Forum last month, "French is unquestionably the majority public language, there is no doubt about that."
StatsCan said that in the 2006 census, 86 per cent of the population of the island reported a knowledge of French. Whether by mother tongue or language spoken most often at home, francophones outnumbered anglophones by more than 2 to 1.
The Montreal census metropolitan area, which includes Laval and the South and North Shores as well as the island, is 69-per-cent francophone by home language. In commuting time as well as distance, French-speaking Longueuil is somewhat closer to downtown Montreal than the English-speaking West Island is. And every day, thousands of francophones come from off the island to occupy the workplaces, businesses and public spaces of the city.
So what's the problem? It's that the study's author went public this week with a complaint that the Charest government has been suppressing his study, whose final version he handed in in August, 2006.
Termote said the OQLF was to have published the study last week, and speculated that the premier's office halted it after a controversy flared over the status of French as the language of service in Montreal stores. Premier Jean Charest and Culture Minister Christine St. Pierre have denied doing so.
OQLF spokesman Gérald Paquette told me yesterday it was the agency's president, France Boucher, who decided the week before the controversy broke to hold the study for release in late March, along with a batch of other reports.
Still, he said that Termote's study, after completion of the Office's normal review process, was ready for publication as early as last August.
There's something enticing about forbidden fruit; see Adam and Eve. And it's often the cover-up that gets people in more trouble than what they covered up; see Richard Nixon, see Barry Bonds.
On language, the government was already under suspicion because it owes its election to non-francophones and has resisted joining in the general (and unjustified) alarm over the state of French. Also, OQLF president Boucher was appointed by the present government and is a former Liberal political staffer.
And yesterday, the suspicions were heightened by the disclosure by La Presse that late last year, Boucher had the members of the language board swear an oath of secrecy about the Office's activities.
But whoever decided to hold back the study until late March might have hurt the Liberals more than helped them. Now its publication, and that of the other language reports, will coincide with the deadline for the completion of the report of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on accommodation.
All this together will further confuse the issues of language and accommodation, provide fresh fuel for Quebec's ongoing identity crisis and supply the Liberals' nationalist adversaries with fresh ammunition as they vie with each other as protectors of the majority against minorities.
So it appears that identity questions will continue to dominate the provincial political agenda for at least the first half of the year. And the government might be even more vulnerable because the ministers responsible for these questions, St. Pierre and Cultural Communities Minister Yolande James, lack political experience.
French in the minority? So what?
French is the overwhelming language of the street and off-island communities