French Canada's fall and Québec's isolation

A Quote from Demography Matters:

Over the past few months, Statistics Canada has been releasing data sets and analysis from the 2006 Census. Statistics Canada released information on language use, immigration and citizenship, and inter-provincial migration. The textual analyses at Statistics Canada's website are good, but the interactive map created by the Canadian Press and hosted at CBC.ca is wonderful. Of note is the continuing fall in Francophone numbers and proportions outside of Québec and New Brunswick. 

What happened? It's important to note that the belief in a French Canadian revanche des berceaux, of a nationalism-driven birth rate under British occupation that saw every family produce large numbers of children, is a legend. The disparity between Ontarian and Québec (and fertility fertility rates emerged after 1870, when Ontario moved in the direction of a demographic regime characterized by sharply falling death and infant mortality rates in tandem with falling birth rates, while Québec--more conservative, more rural--lagged behind. For a long while, this was enough to keep the Francophone proportion of Canada's population stable at roughly 30%. But then the 1960s hit.

Between 1850 and 1950, owing to a high fertility rate among French Canadian women, the proportion of Francophones in the Canadian population held at 30%. The fertility of the Francophones then dropped below the Canadian average toward the mid-1960s, contributing to a decrease in the proportion of the total Canadian population speaking French as a mother tongue -- from 29% in 1951 to 25% in 1986. Between 1926 and 1960, the fertility rate of women in Quebec moved closer to that of other Canadian women. In effect, the ratio of the fertility rate of Quebec women to other Canadian women dropped from 1.45 in 1926 to 1.30 around 1940 and 1.15 around 1950. Between 1960 and 1970, fertility declined very rapidly. The total fertility rate of women in Quebec dropped from 3.9 to 2.1; the fertility of other Canadian women declined but not so markedly, from 4.0 to 2.5. By 1974, fertility in Quebec had declined to 1.8 children/woman, and by 1986 the fertility rate had fallen still further to 1.4, while that of other Canadian women held at between 1.7 and 1.8. The fertility rate was 20% lower in Quebec in 1986 than in the other provinces. These differences in fertility between Québec and the rest of Canada have significantly affected the demographic situation. Census data have shown that the completed fertility of Francophones was 80% higher than that of Anglophones for women born at the turn of the century, but this gap narrowed rapidly over the years and disappeared for women born between 1931-36.

These differences also affected Francophone populations outside of Québec, as the same source notes, with Francophone TFRs outside of Québec falling not only below the levels of non-Francophone TFRs ("[i]n Ontario [in 1986], the total fertility rate for Francophones was 1.54, compared to 1.61 for Anglophones and 1.75 for the other groups"). The fertility of Québec--perhaps a reasonably good proxy for Francophone Canada as a whole--is not the lowest-low fertility of Italy, and it might well have onlyanticipated trends in English Canada. Even so, the province of Québec is going to have to deal with relatively low if not negative population growth and relatively rapid aging, further complicated by issues with immigration, as evidenced by the loud debate on the topic of how best to integrate immigrants. (The old endogamy of the pre-1960s period is most certainly gone, even if the problem of dealing with Others remains, as with other peoples and cultures.)

Survival will be an unsurmountable challenge for most Francophone minorities outside of Québec. In most of the rest of Canada, Francophones form significant minorities (and, occasionally, majorities) only in the "bilingual belt" stretching more-or-less along the Québec border. Can this be changed? It's questionable. Francophones outside of Québec once exhibited higher TFRs than Francophones inside Québec, but this situation has reversed itself. In the 1996-2001 period, there was a significant amount of Francophone out-migration to Ontario, New Brunswick, and Alberta, suggesting a certain potential for the revitalization of those communities, but again Francophones in Ontario and Alberta form only a small portion of the population, while the stable Francophone community of New Brunswick has often been a net exporter of population to Québec. Without any remarkable demographic event--a Francophone baby boom,. mass immigrations from Francophone Europe and Africa, et cetera--non-Francophones won't have any particular reason to view French as particularly relevant to their lives. Journalist Chantal Hébert was right to point out in a December 2007 article for The Toronto Star that "French still an abstraction in much of Canada": "[O]utside Quebec, Francophones make up only 4 per cent of the population. With French an abstraction in so many parts of Canada, the motivation to learn it as a second language is decreasing. Because most Anglophones learn French at school, the peak bilingualism rate for Anglophones outside Quebec occurs in the 15 to 19 age range. Over the past decade, it has slipped from 16.3 per cent to 13 per cent. The census also shows the retention rate of Anglophones who have learned the language is slipping." Even in 2001, Statistics Canada discovered that overall, "43.4% of Francophones reported that they were bilingual, compared with 9.0% of Anglophones." For those Francophones living outside of Québec, living in an overwhelmingly non-Francophone society with few if any barriers to intermarriage, these pressures create a perfect environment for language shift. It's not surprising that there was an overall decline in the numbers of Francophones outside of Québec. As Gilles Grenier put it in his paper "Linguistic and Economic Characteristics of Francophone Minorities in Canada: A Comparison of Ontario and New Brunswick" (Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development (18.8): 1997), in mixed environments

A lot still needs to be learned about what exactly determines assimilation, but it is clear that the fact that Anglophones and Francophones are more mixed together than they used to, mainly because the Canadian society has become more urbanised and communication systems more developed, leads to a more widespread use of the common majority language. If Francophones in Quebec and in New Brunswick have been able to maintain their language, it is because there is a geographical separation between them and the other communities. This does not mean that those Francophones do not use English for some of their economic activities, but at least French is still the dominant language in their own communities. One major reason of the assimilation in Ontario is that there are less and less towns and villages where the majority of the population is French.(299).

This last sentence is critical, since mass language shift from French to English is not unique in the history of North American Francophones. Starting in the late 19th century, relative economic underdevelopment propelled a tremendous migration of Francophones out from their traditional settlement areas along the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to adjacent parts of the continent. Large and thriving communities of Franco-Americans (concentrated in New England, particularly in that region's industrial cities) and Franco-Ontarians (concentrated in northern and eastern areas adjacent to Québec) formed at this time, encouraging some to believe in the idea of a greater Québec encompassing those communities. That vision failed, as the Franco-American community was whittled away through immigration restrictions and acculturation to the Anglophone culture surrounding them. Franco-Ontarians, who with few exceptions like in Anglophone-majority communities relatively isolated from Québec, may be about to follow. And no, the Francophones who are tourists in Maine or long-term residents in Florida don't make up the same sorts of communities. What the long-term effects of a Québec isolated in its language from most of the rest of Canada and attached to a wider Francophone world and (through a traditional Ameriphilia) to the United States will be on a Canada faced with its own regional challenges, I leave to my readers to speculate.

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