7/01/2010

Quebec’s self-defeating language fetish

The following opinion piece could be found at the national post here. It does a good job of showing the dilemmas afflicting the protection of French in Quebec.

Special to the National Post June 4, 2010 – 7:40 am

Last summer, after close to 20 years in The Netherlands running the Dutch campus of a top U.S. university, I returned home to Montreal to accept the post of Director General of Marianopolis College. Three of our children returned with me and my wife, the fourth remaining at university in Amsterdam. Bringing children ages 10 to 16 and a Dutch wife to Canada was a challenge, but I underestimated how difficult it would be to bring them to Quebec.

A year later, I am increasingly concerned about Quebec and its direction. I worry — as a father, as the leader of one of the province’s top higher-education institutions and as a global citizen — that Quebec is moving opposite to global trends.
For example, on Wednesday, the provincial government unveiled its response to the recent Supreme Court of Canada judgement declaring Bill 104 unconstitutional.

Bill 104 amended Bill 101 — Quebec’s French Language Charter — to prevent parents not educated in Canada in English from securing eligibility for their child to attend English schools after spending one year at an un-subsidized English private school. The high court gave Quebec a year to find another way to plug that loophole, while protecting Charter rights. The Quebec National Assembly’s response, Bill 103, further limits access to English schooling.

This has happened despite the fact that the English community has evolved significantly while I was abroad. There is an openness to learning French that didn’t exist when I left in 1991. Graduates of English schools are increasingly fluent in both French and English, and the bridges that have been built between different ethnic communities are remarkable.

Yet, when I speak with the university-bound students at Marianopolis, many of whom attended francophone high schools, and with the academic leaders of Quebec’s French and English colleges and universities, it is clear: The brain drain out of the province persists.

Worse still, this flight of talent and economic prowess is not being replaced by immigrants: Only 18 percent of all immigrants to Canada come to Quebec, too few for a province with almost a quarter of the nation’s population.

Quebec’s auditor-general was the latest to call attention to immigration-related shortcomings, in his May 12 report to the National Assembly. In response, no less an authority than Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James warned that making it a priority to recruit immigrants who speak French — the current policy — limits Quebec’s options.

Meanwhile, globally minded francophone and allophone students are choosing to attend English-language Cegep (as Quebec’s unique college system is called) at English schools at the first moment they are legally allowed to, when the Bill 101 restrictions are lifted after high school. Many stay in the province due to Quebec’s unreasonably low tuition, funded by the highest taxes in North America, but eventually they pay their taxes elsewhere when their careers take them outside the province.
Despite our high taxes, which are equivalent to those in socialist Holland, the services in Quebec are far fewer and less robust than they are in Holland: Health insurance, social welfare and the general infrastructure of the province seem to be lower here. As a hockey dad, I see many parts of Montreal. Too often, I am shocked by the poverty and crumbling roads and buildings.
Quebec’s protectionism translates not just into ill-qualified immigrants, fleeing educated people, fewer services and crumbling infrastructure, but into a society that is out of synch with the rest of the world.

Keeping in mind the undeniable decline of the French language worldwide, let’s compare Quebec’s language policy with that of The Netherlands. The Dutch welcome English as the international language. U.S. and English TV shows are never dubbed, but subtitled; most music on the radio is in English; even more tellingly, universities have converted all masters programs to English-only in order to prepare the Dutch for the global economy.

Does that mean the Dutch culture or language is on the decline? On the contrary, both thrive and the Dutch enjoy a most “distinct society,” despite being surrounded by large countries.

Quebec, meanwhile, has decided that language preservation is more important than economic progress. This has many costs, and it limits the ability of young people to be global citizens.

A recent analysis by the Quebec Ministry of Finance shows the province has one of the industrialized world’s most heavily indebted economies: When considering Quebec as a nation — as some say it ought to be — it ranks a disconcerting fifth in terms of public debt as a percentage of GDP. First on the list? Greece at 102%. Canada’s debt is calculated at 69.7% of its GDP; Quebec’s is at 94%.

My sense is that we need to have the courage to admit that the world has changed since Bill 101 was introduced, as has Quebec. We need to take a fresh look at the situation, and my bet is that together we can continue to protect the French language while developing strategies to strengthen our economy and convince our young people to stay home.

Len Even
National Post

Len Even is director general of Marianopolis College in Montreal.

27 comments:

Mark Doane said...

I don't mind Quebec's language laws. I object to the frogs there not giving enough of their vote to the independence side in the past referendums. If Quebec ever achieves independence, Quebec will become more reasonable in its language laws.

Unfrench Frenchman said...

That's exactly what I think, too. There is a lot of duplicity in discriminating against English by way of legislation, whilst refusing to become a sovereign State.

Anonymous said...

I also believe an independent Quebec would have less ethnic tensions. First many ethnics would simply leave Quebec and relocate elsewhere in Canada. Less ethnics, less ethnic tensions. But also with independence Quebec would no longer be a shrinking province tied to Canadian demography. It might even undergo a seachange in attitude toward English. No longer seeing it as a threat but an asset like Denmark or the Netherlands do.

adski said...

I don’t think Quebec’s separation from Canada would help French in North America. Quebec would still exist in a geopolitical setting where it would be surrounded by more powerful English speaking countries, on which Quebec would be dependent economically (by Parizeau’s own admission). Similarly, I don’t think Bill 101 would be scrapped, if anything it would be slightly amended. The reason is that French will always be irrelevant in the context of this continent, even in a separated Quebec. And Quebec nationalists will always be petty and vengeful – their personalities won’t change. They will always feel slighted and disrespected just by the fact that noone pays any attention to their language that they think should be worshipped and adored.

Contrary to the contradictory logic served by Quebec separatists (French is in danger of extinction vs. French is an important language of the local “majority”), French is neither in peril, nor is it particularly important. The truth is that French is just another “ethnic” language at this point, and that won’t change on this continent no matter what Quebec is – officially independent or de facto independent (as it is in the Canadian confederation). The state of the French fact in North America is a bitter pill to swallow for Francophone nationalists, but there is nothing they can do about it.

As for the "ethnic tensions", there are too many “ethnics” at this point in Montreal for anyone to be able to reverse this trend. Quebec brings in 50,000 immigrants a year, all while the Francophone birth rate is declining. They're getting out-populated in their own province. And I have no problem with that. No problem at all.

Unfrench Frenchman said...

Best comment in a long time on this blog, adski, maybe even best comment ever.
The French nationalists don't want to understand that they need decent fertility rates to perpetuate their language in Quebec (or in France). Back when Quebec's French speakers were mostly Catholic, they grew to eventually outnumber the Anglos. Since then, the French Freemasons have managed to substitute their ideology of secularism and relativism for Catholicism in the Belle Province. Incidentally, they are also behind much of the political agitation that has been going on there.
Anyhow, the Francos have no right to complain because they refuse to do what it takes to perpetuate their language, i.e. have kids. Repressive legislation and mass immigration from Francophone countries of sorts is a lazy and inadequate alternative.

adski said...

I would argue with you on the alleged relativism in Quebec. This might apply in the general lifestyle sphere, but in the area of language, Quebec is very absolutist. If you lived in Montreal, you’d see that clearly. Essentially, we have a de facto bilingual city with over half a million people hardly ever using French, and half a million working in English only (statistic from the nationalist Imperatif Francais website), yet we are reminded every day what the official language is, and what language we should speak.

In Quebec, the gap between official and de facto is wide and deep, yet scores of nationalists (and in Quebec it feels that every second Francophone is a nationalist) cling to the mantra: “le francais est une language officielle du Quebec”. Thus, if you live in English, you are a leper. No two ways about it. You just are. And that’s despite an obvious contradiction – if Quebec is French-only, why do nationalists complain every day that there is so much English in Montreal?

Quebeckers like to think that by giving up on the Catholic Church, they’ve freed themselves of dogmatism, and are now a free secular humanistic society. But they haven’t freed themselves of dogmatism – they simply swapped one form of dogmatic belief for another.

Their new idol is Bill 101. Like a jealous deity, Bill 101 discourages the use of a particular language and stresses that Quebeckers live in French. The new deity asks us to ignore the reality that surrounds us, and if we refuse to ignore that reality, the new deity can resort to coercion against us. The new deity is beyond criticism - any criticism is met with anger and hostility. Arguing with the followers of the new deity is pointless – they just know what’s right, even if their contradictions and fallacies are clear and evident.

Bill 101 is a set of rules that, not unlike the 10 commandments, guides Quebeckers through the complexities of life. It offers easy answers to complex and ambiguous questions that life throws their way. It serves as a protective blanket, something that makes them feel safe and secure, and helps them sleep at night. But the feeling of security is just an illusion, brutally verified every day for those Francophones who live in Montreal. In this city, it is not uncommon to run into angry French people who complain that despite French being the official language, proclaimed by Bill 101 to be the language of work, commerce, business, and communication (i.e. everything), it is simply not the case. But instead of coming to grips with the reality and accepting that laws do not always reflect or shape the reality (especially if the law is passed in the atmosphere of nationalistic hysteria), they choose to blame the reality for not conforming to the deeply flawed and unrealistic laws.

Quebec nationalism is like a new religion. In Quebec, Catholicism has been replaced with new dogma.

For a good blog on every day life of an English speaker in Montreal, check out this link:

http://nodogsoranglophones.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Reply to Adski:

My point was that Quebec's share of Canada's population is declining thus weakening its power in Ottawa and its ability to shape the national agenda. You don't seem to get that. Also small countries in Europe maintain their independence despite being surrounded by much bigger players too. As for your rather distasteful and innapropriate delight in the destruction of the historic areas of Franco-Montreal I would advise caution here. Better the devil you know. I would rather walk through a Quebecois neighbourhood alone at night then one full of Haitians or Arabs from the Maghreb. Be careful what you wish for Adski. You might just get it. The Toronto guy.

adski said...

“My point was that Quebec's share of Canada's population is declining thus weakening its power in Ottawa and its ability to shape the national agenda. You don't seem to get that.”

I’m not sure what I’m not getting. I totally agree that the weight and influence of Francophones is declining in Canada, mainly due to the demographics. All I’m saying is that it will continue no matter what Quebec does. On this continent, French will never be a language that matters. It is already like an “ethnic” language, elevated in status on paper, and on paper only.

“As for your rather distasteful and innapropriate delight in the destruction of the historic areas of Franco-Montreal.”

???

“would rather walk through a Quebecois neighbourhood alone at night then one full of Haitians or Arabs from the Maghreb”

No comment.

“Be careful what you wish for Adski.”

The choice is simple – a multiethnic Montreal (with all its advantages AND disadvantages), or predominantly Francophone Montreal (with all its advantages AND disadvantages). I’m going for the ethnic one for two reasons: 1. I’m not a Francophone, and 2. the “ethnics” do not powertrip, do not whine, and do not threaten to disrupt the integrity of this country.

Unfrench Frenchman said...

Well, it depends what ethnics we're talking about. Those that the Francophones like to fill up Quebec with are of the unsavoury type.

Mark Doane said...

I would prefer a monoethnic Montreal composed exclusively of ethnic French. But then as I stated above I would also support Quebec seceding from the Canadian federation.

I also support Peter Brimelow's position that if Quebec won't leave Canada voluntarily then it should be expelled.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Adski:

French doesn't have to be the language of the continent anymore then Danish has to be the language of Europe. But it could certainly be the language of an independent Quebec. Your comments about ethnics are amusing to say the least. You are either naive, sheltered or delusional. Actually Montreal has long been a multi-ethnic city. What we are really talking about is a multi-racial Montreal. I don't think replacing the Quebecois with the masses of the third world is a good thing. If you Anglo-Montrealers are looking for salvation by Haitians and Arabs then you are just wrong.

adski said...

“Those that the Francophones like to fill up Quebec with are of the unsavoury type.”
Francophones are shooting themselves in the foot with their immigration policy. By refusing people from anglophilic countries (China, India, Eastern Europe), they are passing up on skilled workforce. As for the francophilic immigrants (Haitians, Africans, Maghrebians, Vietnamese), not all of them are “unsavory”, although many are. As are countless of bs-collecting francophones.

“I would prefer a monoethnic Montreal composed exclusively of ethnic French”

Judging by your name, you are an Anglophone. Thus, your remark puzzles me. Because if you live in Montreal, that makes you a masochist. If you don’t live in Montreal, then why would you care what Montreal is like? It’s as if I were to say that people in Toronto should wear blue hats and red socks. Who cares?

“French doesn't have to be the language of the continent anymore then Danish has to be the language of Europe”

Not only doesn’t it have to, but it won’t. The difference between the Danes and the Francophones is that Danish has never been the world language, while French has been the language of diplomacy for a while. Thus, the Danes have very realistic expectations of their language and therefore embraced English en masse as the language that connects them with the rest of the world. Francophones, on the other hand, still remain nostalgic about the good times, and are desperately trying to create a parallel universe for themselves in which French still reigns as number one. I see it in Quebec a lot. A frequent complaint here is that while Francophones learn English, Anglophones in the ROC do not learn French. As if French and English were on the equal footing, which they aren’t. One stands much more to gain from learning English than from learning French, so Anglophones in the ROC don’t bother.

“I don't think replacing the Quebecois with the masses of the third world is a good thing”

I wouldn’t mind. It’s a matter of opinion. Saying that it’s delusional is like saying that one is delusional because he likes color green. And I’m not delusional about the facts either, which are: 50000 immigrants a year come to Quebec, the Francophone birthrate is way low, Francophones are leaving Montreal for the suburbs and the regions, the immigrants who are taking over are mostly bilingual and not concerned with “protecting” French. In Canada overall, the francophone demographic weight is approaching 20% (1/5). Once it drops below that, the political impact the Francophones have in this country will be minimal. This is what the separation would be for. To be the kings of their own dumpster, rather than a minority in a prosperous country that the UN last year ranked as the 4th best country to live in 2009.

Anonymous said...

The French-Canadians don't want to be a minority group in Canada. They do not want to be like Italians in Toronto or Chinese in Vancouver or Ukrainians in Manitoba. They don't see themselves in this role. They think of themselves as one of Canada's two founding peoples. They want to preserve their language and culture. They see Quebec city rather then Ottawa as the guardian of this. Mass immigration into Canada is turning Francophones into just another ethnic group, or worse a bubble in a melting pot. There are higher values then economics. Would the rest of Canada abandon English if an alternative language could be shown to raise the standard of living 10%? I don't think so. I would be careful of your dumpster comments. You may make Anglos in the rest of Canada wake up and eject Quebec from the confederation. That would put Quebec Anglos like you up the creek without a paddle. The Toronto guy.

adski said...

They don’t want to be just another minority, yet they want to reap the benefits of Canadian economy. Sorry, but they have to pick one. Because in Canada, noone will give them any special treatment just because they were one of the two “founding nations” 400 years ago or so. So Quebeckers have only 2 choices: either vote with your heart, or vote with your wallet. And many Francophones tend to vote with their wallets. Their own country vs. car payments, mortgage, pension, benefits. I live around Francophones in Rive Sud and I find them to be really spoilt and pampered, used to working well paid, secure, unionized jobs with loads of benefits, enjoying their 3 story houses with 2 SUVs parked in the driveway. They know that in an event of separation that might end, or at least deteriorate. And they are not ready to give it up. For many, economics matters more than the “nation”. Otherwise, given that they make up 80% of Quebec’s population, the outcome of any referendum would be a slam dunk.

As for my dumpster comments, I don’t really care what Anglos in the ROC think. I’m surprised that they haven’t kicked Quebec out yet. Logically, it should be the ROC trying to kick Quebec out, since it’s Quebec that drains Canada economically AND has the gall to complain constantly. So it makes little sense to keep this spoilt brat in the confederation.

Mark Doane said...

Adski said...

Judging by your name, you are an Anglophone. Thus, your remark puzzles me. Because if you live in Montreal, that makes you a masochist. If you don’t live in Montreal, then why would you care what Montreal is like? It’s as if I were to say that people in Toronto should wear blue hats and red socks. Who cares?

Click on my name and look at where I live before responding to my comments.

I care what Montreal is like because I support having each nation on earth in its own territory among its own kind. The frogs in Quebec deserve their own territory as a nation and deserve to be free of national minorities. As a practical matter you can't complain about the behavior of the French in Quebec since you are living in their territory. Your behavior would be like a Mexican in America complaining about the lack of Spanish, or an American complaining about the lack of English in Mexico.

Perhaps during the partition of Canada the frogs living in the rest of Canada can be given the option of assimilation or return to Quebec.

Of course, since I am imagining things that are not likely to happen the other option is to send the frogs back to France.

Mark Doane said...

Adski said...

Otherwise, given that they make up 80% of Quebec’s population, the outcome of any referendum would be a slam dunk.

Not necessarily. Assuming* that non-francophones give 90% of their vote in secession referendums to the pro-Canada side we can calculate the minimum support the francophones must give to the independence cause to achieve separation.

Here is the formula we would need:

.8x + .2(.1) = .51

.8x + .02 = .51

.8x = .49

x = (.49/.8)

x = .6125 or about 61%

Mark Doane said...

In fact, according to this Francophones gave around around 60% of their vote to the independence side in the 1995 referendum which resulting in the referendum having an outcome of 49.42% of all voters voting yes which is pretty close to my estimate.

I would bet that colored Francophones probably voted for staying in Canada which means that in any future referendum White Francophones will have to muster much more than 60% in order to win.

But looking at the numbers it is still very evident that had the frogs given just a few percentage points more of their vote to the independence side Quebec would be an independent country right now.

Mark Doane said...

One more post.

According to this post Anglophones are emigrating from Quebec.

Unfrench Frenchman said...

"The frogs in Quebec deserve their own territory as a nation and deserve to be free of national minorities."

To free Quebec of national minorities would require the extermination or deportation of all Indian tribes. In fact, if Canada acted French, i.e. centralistic, it would have suppressed French culture in Quebec and given the province no autonomy at all. The French Canadians can be happy they settled down in a country whose dominant ethnicity is more tolerant than they are.

Anonymous said...

An independent Quebec might be the best thing for everybody. The only 'losers' would be the English speakers in Quebec and French-speakers outside it. Some population movement could possibly be expected. But everyone might be better off in the long run. I would say both Britain and the REPUBLIC (not the north) of Ireland are each better off without the other. Ditto with the Czechs and Slovaks. Norway and Sweden separated and both seem like good countries to me. But the Canadian political establishment acts like it would be the end of the world; a crime against the very history of all humanity to quote former prime minsiter Pierre Trudeau. The Toronto guy.

Mark Doane said...

I wasn't thinking of the Indians when I wrote my comment. When the Quebeckers aren't voting the the independence party they are voting for the liberals, so having them out of the federation is a good thing. The Anglos in Quebec are preventing the province from achieving independence and in the process they are hurting Ontario and the Western provinces. Having the English-speaking population of Quebec emigrate will make independence easier and allow both the Anglos in Canada and the Frogs to build the type of societies that they desire.

Unfrench Frenchman said...

"The Anglos in Quebec are preventing the province from achieving independence and in the process they are hurting Ontario and the Western provinces."

Makes sense.

adski said...

Unfrench Frenchman: "The French Canadians can be happy they settled down in a country whose dominant ethnicity is more tolerant than they are."

Absolutely correct. This is the irony that Quebec nationalists do not see or conveniently ignore.

---

Doane: "I care what Montreal is like because I support having each nation on earth in its own territory among its own kind. The frogs in Quebec deserve their own territory as a nation and deserve to be free of national minorities."

Remember that Quebec is an enslaved country only in the minds of some hard core nationalists. In reality, Quebec is a semi-autonomous unit in a federation with several other provinces. It is self-governing for the most part, and able to leave the confederation if the majority of its citizens so desire. Quebec is like a European country within the EU. Also, 20% of Quebec’s population is not Francophone (or “frog” in your eloquent terminology). Most of these 20% live in Montreal, which is half non-Francophone, and becoming more and more non-Francophone with each passing year. On top of it, many Francophones are also federalist. Don’t you think that these people should have a say too?

------

Doane: “As a practical matter you can't complain about the behavior of the French in Quebec since you are living in their territory”

Of course I can. Disagreeing is a cornerstone of every liberal democracy. I do NOT like the nationalist movement of Quebec one bit. I find it to be contrived, sly, and shrill, based on lies, distortions, and manipulation. And I do have a right to speak on it, if I wish. Same as you have a right to speak up against things you don’t like in your country, wherever it may be.

--

Doane: “Perhaps during the partition of Canada the frogs living in the rest of Canada can be given the option of assimilation or return to Quebec.”

That’s very generous of you. I’m, sure the “frogs” will appreciate your generous offer.

Mark Doane said...

Adski, the Canadian Federation needs to come to an end. Not only do the Quebeckers vote for the liberal parties when they are not voting for independence but the entire center and east of Canada constantly pushes leftism on the western provinces. Once the CF dies then Canada will form into four countries:
1. Quebec
2. The English speaking Maritimes
3. Ontario
4. The provinces west of Ontario.

The western provinces are culturally different from Ontario and Quebec. The Maritimes share much in common with the other English speaking parts of Canada but are too far away from the other Anglophone provinces to join them.

Peter Brimelow (an immigrant from Canada) once stated that all modern political diseases were invented in Canada, often in response to the Quebec problem.

Anonymous said...

Mark - Your last comment is no doubt extreme. Do you really think your hypothesized 4 countries will be a substitute for the brand "Canada"?

Doing such a thing would be suicidal.

Mark Doane said...

Canada is not a brand it is a federation of provinces that can be ended at any time. The four new counrties that would be carved out of Canada would face several large, but manageable problems:

Economics: Canada, including Quebec, is completely integrated into the US economy, which makes sense since most Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border. Free trade with the US is not essential, but is very desireable and all four regions would probably ratify the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the way the Canadian government has. The four regions together can remain economically independent of the US and maintain a comfortable standard of living, but probably not separately. Most likely one or more of the regions would like to adopt the US dollar as a currency the way some Latin American countries have chosen to do so. I doubt however that any of the new countries would reduce their self respect by doing so however. I suspect that the Maritimes will probably suffer economically, but I have no way of proving it. Most likely the Maritimes will look south to New England as their culural companions.

Military: I doubt this will even be an issue. Most of the new countries will have small active duty militaries backed by larger militia/reserve forces. All will cooperate with the US military and probably look to it for training and weapons systems.

Welfare: This I think will be the big problem. Non-white groups in the US (Mexicans, US Blacks, colored immigrants) typically consume welfare at rates several times the White rate. I don't know whether there is difference in welfare usage between the White Anglos and the White Francophones, but I suspect there isn't. When I speak of 'welfare' I am not counting government employment as a form of welfare and am only reffering to assistance given to non-working or marginally employed individuals. A newly independent quebec could reduce welfare, causing Montreal's colored underclass to leave or it could limit welfare to only those persons who can demonstrate proficiency in the french language. In fact, a language test would be a good policy for Quebec to implement now while it is a province and its colored underclass holds Canadian citizenship. If Quebec did this now a good portion of the Anglophone population would leave making independence easier.

Medicine: I remember reading that each province's medical system is practically independent of Ottawa already so very little change will occur there.

Mark Doane said...

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing agisnt the French in Quebec, but I realize that they have no business being in an English speaking country. I personally believe that the Quebeckers have it in themselves to build a reasonably free, prosperous French-speaking society, but only if they are secure in their own territory under their own government. Quebec needs to go, for their sakes and for ours.