One intrusion too many

Conseil national - Collogue PQ - immigration et langue - 21-22 novembre -

'When I can't buy a bagel in French, it bugs me." Whether or not the Parti Québécois's plans for new rules on language in Quebec are inspired by this plaintive observation from party president Jonathan Valois, they are not needed now. The integration of immigrants into a predominantly French-speaking society is continuing and successful.
The weekend convention of Quebec's official opposition featured growing support for measures to protect French, captured in a comment by its Leader, Pauline Marois, that French is on the retreat in Montreal. Today, the PQ will present a bill affirming three "Quebec values": equality between men and women, the secular character of the society and the primacy of French. Ms. Marois demurs on a troubling proposal, increasingly favoured among party militants and elected members, to limit immigrant access to the five public English-language CEGEPs (pre-university colleges). But one idea that will likely appear in the legislation is the extension of provisions of Bill 101, the province's language legislation, to businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
New attempts to secure the centrality of French in Quebec public life must be measured against the actual situation on the ground, bagel-buying notwithstanding. In Montreal, among allophones (those whose first language is neither French nor English), more use French at work than English. Turning to the private use of French, the proportion of French speakers at home in Montreal has hovered at or near 70 per cent in each of the last three censuses, going back to 1996. More allophones now speak French at home than they did five years ago. And in public and private, the longer-term trajectory in favour of French usage is positive.
The sources of the Péquistes' frustration are threefold: a Supreme Court ruling that says the Quebec government is not allowed to ignore some previous English-language education for the purposes of deciding the ultimate language of schooling; the existence of some English-language enclaves on the island of Montreal; and the de facto use of English as the first language in some areas of customer service.
The last two critiques are social facts, and ought not to be engineered away. The system that has been in place for a generation, and has gained support throughout Quebec society, makes French the preferred language in public life where most feasible - governments, large institutions and public spaces - with specific prescriptions so that immigrants are more likely to be educated in French-language schools. It has worked: large swaths of allophones and anglophones learned, and now use, French. To intrude further, into small shops and neighbourhoods, would not be acceptable.

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