It has been a week of near-hysteria swirling around the question of whether research on the health of French in the province was, or wasn't, deliberately suppressed for political reasons. But beneath all the froth, there is actually nothing startlingly new in the research.
Demographer Marc Termote was commissioned to study the status of French in the home, at school and in the workplace by the Office québécois de la langue française. This was part of a five-yearly report to be presented to the provincial government in March.
Termote's findings are essentially the same as those from Statistics Canada, based on the 2006 census. On Montreal Island, the proportion of people who speak French at home fell slightly, dropping 1.7 per cent to 52.6 per cent between 2001 and 2006.
As for mother tongue, there was a 4.2-per-cent drop in French as mother tongue, pushing it below 50 per cent on the island (to 48.8 per cent). This is hardly news, given the continuing wholesale movement of young francophone families to off-island suburbs, as Gazette columnist Henry Aubin remind us today on the page opposite.
This information has long been publicly available to anyone - politician, shock-jock radio host, person in the street - who wanted to make an issue of it.
Termote might have been annoyed that his research wasn't trotted out as soon as it was produced, which was two years ago, but it is unlikely that even then it would have had the nuclear-bomb effect he evidently wanted.
Now, however, because it was left on the shelf long enough for conspiracy theorists to get their teeth into it, people are in an uproar. The moral: Information should be made public promptly, to keep it from getting mired in extraneous, irrelevant issues.
No less a figure than the head of the Office québécois de la langue française, France Boucher, said she was "amazed" at the reaction to the news that there is a drop in the proportion of Quebecers who claim French as their mother tongue. In an interview with the Journal de Montréal this week, Boucher said, "Francophone society has not been having children for the last 30 years, and now we're worried about a decline in French. Why are we surprised? Where was everyone? Asleep at the switch?"
Boucher said there was no attempt by the Office to hide Termote's figures. She said the Office is verifying his research, along with all the other research it has commissioned, and will make all the data public within a few more weeks.
Will this be enough to calm troubled linguistic waters? No chance, not with Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois and Action démocratique du Québec leader Mario Dumont battling it out to be seen as the real protector of the "Quebec identity." This seemingly neutral concept masks an unpleasant resurgence of ethnic nationalism.
It's no accident that calls are now being made for French-only daycare, for Bill 101 to be extended into the college system, and for immigration to be sharply curtailed, whether immigrants know French or not.
And yet a key finding of the 2006 census is that three of every four allophone immigrants to Quebec chose French over English as the language they in which they work, study and live publicly. The battle over which language is used in Quebec's public space has been won. French predominates.
And what people speak in the privacy of their homes is no one else's business. It should be enough that French has become the language of commerce and public life.
But that's the problem with ethnic nationalists - nothing is ever enough for them. It's time for the rest of us say the situation we have is fine. If nationalists' real goal is to eradicate every vestige of anything but French, that's just wrong.