Anglophones of Quebec, you can breathe easy. According to a new poll on French, bilingualism and Bill 101, your French-speaking compatriots no longer think you constitute the greatest threat to the survival of the French language in Quebec.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the reason you're no longer a threat is because there are fewer of you and francophones have moved on to a new source of worry: multiculturalism.
The poll, by Angus Reid for La Presse, was carried out Feb. 9 and 10, right around the time that Conservative MP Maxime Bernier suggested that Quebecers no longer need Bill 101 to protect the French language.
According to the poll, 90 per cent of Frenchspeaking Quebecers disagreed with Bernier. Asked what threatens the French language in Quebec today -with English-Canadian culture, American culture and multiculturalism as options -51 per cent chose English-Canadian culture, 57 per cent identified American culture and 66 per cent pointed to multiculturalism.
For so many people to buy into the idea that French is constantly under threat by something is not a good sign. Francophones, who make up more than 80 per cent of Quebec's population, should get a grip on their linguistic insecurities. If young and old alike think multiculturalism is a threat, that suggests there will be stresses and strains between immigrants and native-born francophones for years to come -to the detriment of both groups and everyone else in the province.
In the real world of flesh-and-blood people, there is nothing to suggest that immigrants to Quebec are undermining the French language. Things are improving, in fact. Today, more immigrants arrive in the province already knowing French. In 2006, in greater Montreal, one immigrant in three used French at home. The proportion of people living on Montreal Island whose mother tongue was neither French nor English made up less than 33 per cent of Montreal's population.
Quebec, like the rest of the country, depends to a large extent on immigration for population growth. Outside of Montreal, Quebec might feel like a homogeneous society, French-speaking and Catholic, with a distressing tendency to view the outside world as foreign and suspect.
But on the island, francophones should by now be used to minorities studying and working alongside them. They might not be native-born Quebecers; some of them might wear a burqa or carry a kirpan; but they speak French, live here, contribute to the economic and cultural wealth of the province and do not constitute a threat to Quebec's way of life.