But will it still be in a generation or two? Don’t count on it.
New Brunswick had the largest drop in francophone population of any province between 2001 and 2006, losing 4,000 residents whose mother tongue is French.
That reversed a longer trend in which, from 1961 to 2001, the francophone population increased by 12.4 per cent in New Brunswick.
With 32.4 per cent of New Brunswick now francophone, the community has fallen to less than a third of the province’s population for the first time.
And four trends evident in the 2006 census figures released last week threaten to hasten the slight but steady erosion in francophone numbers:
— the province’s francophone population is aging far more rapidly than the province’s anglophone majority;
— francophones are also increasingly likely to use English most of the time at home;
— francophones accounted for nearly half the net out-migration of New Brunswickers from 2001-06, far in excess of their proportion of the population;
— and the immigrants arriving in modest but increasing numbers in New Brunswick are more often adding to the English-speaking majority.
‘‘Overall, it concerns me and it has for the 30 years I’ve been doing research on this,’’ said Rodrigue Landry, director of the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, at the University of Moncton.
‘‘Certain trends are almost inescapable when you’re in a minority.’’
Aging is one of those trends.
All of Canada’s population is aging due to low birth rates and higher life expectancy. But add in the increasing use of English in francophone homes, which reduces the transmission of French as a mother tongue, and the francophone population is aging much faster than the anglophone population, says Statistics Canada.
Across Canada, the younger francophone age groups are declining rapidly. The population is not renewing itself.
In New Brunswick, the situation is the same.
Every francophone New Brunswicker under 40 belongs to a generation of francophones with a smaller piece of the overall population than the 32.4 per cent that francophones of all ages represent.
The smallest proportion of the population falls to the francophones under the age of 10: they are less than 27 per cent of the children their age.
It’s middle-aged and older francophones — mostly beyond the age to start their families — who form a demographic bulge. Francophones between 40 and 75 per cent are, together, 35 per cent of the population their age.
In raw numbers, 232,980 New Brunswickers have French as their mother tongue but only 211,665 (21,315 fewer) speak French most often at home.
Francophones primarily using English at home has become more common over time.
In 1971, just 8.7 per cent did so; 20 years later, it was 9.7 per cent. By 2001, it was 10.5 per cent; it had reached 11.2 per cent by 2006.