Quebec anglophones and allophones are more likely than ever before to speak French at work, according to 2006 census data made public this week. In response to this news Christine St-Pierre, the Quebec language minister, said more must be done to advance the use of French in the workplace.
This absurd reaction encapsulates the knee-jerk attitude toward language that major political parties all share. Language is the "third rail" of Quebec politics; deadly to any party the least bit careless about it.
Anglophones and allophones might naïvely expect that the increasing use of French in the workplace - 63 per cent of allophones spoke French most often on the job in 2006, up from 60 per cent in 2001 - could open the door to relaxation of rules governing access to English schools, for example.
Not a chance. In fact St. Pierre is promising to present new proposals for further expanding the role of French in the workplace.
The way language politics work here is that any bad news about French, however contrived, is a disaster; any good news is not good enough. Francophones now make up less than 50 per cent of Montreal Islanders? Never mind that tens of thousands of Montreal francophones have moved to off-island suburbs and that the whole metropolitan area is still strongly French-speaking. Look at Montreal, it's a disaster!
The census is, by its nature, more precise than any poll. Yet we have also had some pre-emptive grumbling over lesser research data, and the handling of it by the Office québécois de la langue française which, some people charge, is itself insufficiently vigilant! There are people eager, it seems, to complain about language for any reason - or none.
It's all a little wearying for anglophones and allophones who have, by a strong majority, accepted the primacy of French but just want a little respect and a little linguistic peace. Might as well wish for summer weather in March.