The law of unintended consequences has struck again. After Quebec decided it would accept fewer non-French-speaking immigrants, the number of French-speaking immigrants jumped sharply - and so did the number of bilingual immigrants.
It turns out they are one and the same. French-speaking immigrants, Quebec has discovered, are likely to speak English also. Therefore, a perfectly sensible decision by a majority French-language province to seek out more French-speaking immigrants is resulting, quite unexpectedly, in a more bilingual Montreal.
Immigration - a large-scale exercise in social and economic engineering - has a habit of veering off in unforeseen directions. This week, a Montreal think tank, the Association for Canadian Studies, uncovered the startling fact that Quebec's new emphasis on French-language knowledge will ultimately lead to greater bilingualism in the province's biggest city.
Only die-hards opposed to knowledge of any language other than French will find this news disheartening. Immigrants who know at least one, and especially those who know both, of Canada's official languages find it much easier to make their way in the labour and business markets here, and in society generally.
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, says Quebec's insistence on knowledge of French led to Ottawa also emphasizing language skills. The result is that now, two in every three immigrants to Canada knows either English or French. Some Canadians might think the ideal figure would be even higher, but this represents a huge improvement over 2002 when nearly half of all immigrants knew neither official language.
The situation in Quebec keeps improving: In June, the department of immigration and cultural communities published figures for the first three months of this year showing 60 per cent of immigrants know French, a jump of nearly four percentage points over the first three months of last year. The increase is a result in part of a greater emphasis on selecting qualified, independent workers, 77.3 per cent of whom speak French.
Quebec has had a good few months, demographically. Our birth rate is up, for one thing. Nonetheless, the province is still heavily dependent on immigration for the foreseeable future.
In part, that's because interprovincial migration continues to take a heavy toll on Quebec's population. According to a study published in July by the Canadian Studies group, in 2006 Quebec lost an estimated 12,500 residents to other provinces. This loss came about, as the study pointed out, despite the province's booming economy last year.
It looks as though the smartest move Quebec could make is the one it has already, inadvertently, made: Create a bilingual society, with French to help keep its history and culture alive, and English, so essential in today's world, to allow Quebecers to compete globally.
Nobody should be alarmed by the arrival of bilingual newcomers. Quite the contrary. We should be delighted.