Stop giving millions to dying French communities

Tories urged 'Money down drain,' statistician calls aid to fading outposts

Recensement 2006 - Langue française

Kate Jaimet - For the past decade, statistician Charles Castonguay has been predicting the demise of francophone communities outside of Quebec.
Now, with census data showing a continuing slide in native French-speakers outside Quebec, he says it's time to cut off federal government life-support to the shrinking franco-phone outposts.
"I think it's money down the drain," said Mr. Castonguay, an adjunct professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Ottawa. "Not in Ottawa, not in (Eastern) Ontario or New Brunswick, but outside of those areas, the strength of English is just overwhelming."

But the head of the organization that represents minority francophones says the government should put billions of dollars into bolstering French outside Quebec. "I hope that the census data send a very clear signal to the government that we have to act, that we have to really have concrete investments on the ground if we want to make a difference," said Lise Routhier-Boudreau, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada.
The 2006 census data released this week by Statistics Canada show that the number of people who speak mainly French at home declined between 2001 and 2006 in all anglophone provinces from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland.
In Newfoundland, the number of French speakers plummeted by 27 per cent, followed by 12 per cent in Saskatchewan, 10 per cent in Nova Scotia, and smaller declines in New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Manitoba.
French as a home language stayed nearly stable in Ontario, declining by 0.2 per cent.
Even in Alberta, where the number of French speakers grew, the increase of 3.3 per cent did not keep pace with the province's overall population growth between 2001 and 2006.
Similarly, the number of people who registered French as their mother tongue sank by 13 per cent in Newfoundland, 10 per cent in Saskatchewan, and also declined in P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunsick and Manitoba.
Ontario posted a modest 0.7 per cent gain in the number of native francophones, but this did not keep pace with the overall population increase. A similar trend could be found in B.C. and Alberta.
In Newfoundland, there were only 25 babies between the ages of zero and four whose mother tongue was registered as French on the 2006 census.
"There are places where it's almost catastrophic," Ms. Routhier-Boudreau admitted.
The declines in French as a mother tongue and a language of daily living continue a longstanding trend in Canada. The trend hasn't reversed, despite the 2003 federal Action Plan for Official Languages which committed the government to spending an additional $750 million between 2003 and 2008, to support official-language minorities and second-language learning.
"If the federal government didn't pour all these millions down the drain, there would probably be less francophones around in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and southern Ontario. I'm ready to admit that," said Mr. Castonguay. "But you're not going to stop the basic trend toward less and less French out there."
With the 2003 action plan coming to an end in the spring, and former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord charged with making recommendations to the federal government about official language policy, Ms. Routhier-Boudreau said the amount of spending must increase beyond $750 million. "It's clearly insufficient," she said. "We obviously have to talk about billions."
Ms. Routhier-Boudreau said there is reason for optimism. She said assimilation is not increasing as fast as it once was. And she pointed out that there has been an increase between 2001 and 2006 in francophone immigrants to provinces outside Quebec.
As well, francophone school boards, established in the past 15 years, are starting to bear fruit, she said. The statistics show that among very young children, in the 0-4 age range, there is an increase in some provinces among parents who register those children's maternal language as French.

In the once-French town of Cape St. George, Newfoundland, the principal of the French language elementary school Notre-Dame-du-Cap said most of the 50 students don't speak the language at home.
"For most of our youth, French is just a language of school. It's not a living language," said Mark Cormier.
But he said teaching French is important because it puts children in touch with their heritage. Besides the language, his students take accordion lessons and learn traditional French songs and stories.
Ms. Routhier-Boudreau said federal and provincial governments, families, and the private sector must all contribute to creating communities where people can live, work, and enjoy leisure activities in French.
"We think there has already been a positive impact," she said. "We think that if important investments are made, we'll have more positive results."
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