Lisée: Quebec’s plan to eradicate English

Clever piece but unlikely to convince many:

It’s much worse than everything you’ve heard. The assault on the Anglo minority in Quebec has been best summed-up by Marlene Jennings: it is, she said, a “perfect formula” for “eradication.” She should know. The former Liberal MP headed until recently the Quebec Community Groups Network, spearheading the fight against François Legault’s many-pronged and still evolving eradication plan.

The numbers don’t lie. Quebecers who have English as a mother tongue account for 8 per cent of the population. But what of the ability to attract newcomers into the Anglo fold, given the enormous power of attraction of French on the continent? The proportion of Quebecers that uses English more than French in their daily lives is only 14 per cent. That doesn’t even double the count. Granted, 44 per cent of all Quebecers do speak English as do close to 80 per cent of young francophone Montrealers, but that is poor consolation.

Case in point: Quebec’s intolerant immigration policies has only let into the Montreal area about 90,000 unilingual English-speaking newcomers in the last three years — since the election of the governing CAQ — which barely adds 14 per cent to the Anglo population, so you can see where this is headed.

Everybody knows that the CAQ language bill, now in effect, will crack down on any doctor or nurse who would dare speak English to anyone not member of the “historic Anglo community,” meaning those who attended school in English. The actual text of the law tries to hide this fact by stating that French is required “except in health,” and then a specific section gaslights jurists by saying it specifically does not apply to the general statute on health and social services. 

Don’t be fooled by the fact that other law compels hospitals in all regions to set up English speaking access plans and to render services in English for anyone who asks for them. In reality, Anglo Quebecers have little other resource than to rely on the 37 institutions of the English public health network, which barely employs 45 per cent of the Island of Montreal’s health workers. 

Outside that small cocoon, English speakers needing medical care will be lucky if they fall in the hands of the puny proportion of French doctors that actually speak their language: 88 per cent. It is clear to anyone who follows these issues that French Canadians outside Quebec would revolt if their access to health in their language was that dire.

It’s even shoddier, of course, in the labour market. Toronto readers know, thanks to Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne, that “the law prohibits the use of any language but French in the province’s workplaces, large or small, public or private.” Specifically, the new law extends to mid-sized shops, the regulation having existed for 35 years in larger ones. 

The damage is already done: in the last census, the proportion of workers in the Montreal area who used mostly English at work was down to 20 per cent, those who use it regularly down to 49 per cent. Why aren’t all these people fined by the language police? 

Corruption, laziness and incompetence, endemic in Quebec as famously reported in Maclean’s magazine, are surely the only explanation for this lack of enforcement, hidden perhaps behind a slew of exceptions enabling anyone to speak any language to clients, suppliers, the head office, or colleagues, provided French is the “usual and habitual language of work.” Usual and habitual, which are, of course, code words for intransigence. Now if someone would be foolish enough to impose, say, English as the “usual and habitual language of work” in Toronto or Mississauga, all hell would break loose.

In Quebec, only 14 per cent of management positions are held by the 8 per cent of Anglos, which gives them a ridiculously small systemic advantage. Thank God for the rebel CEOs of Air Canada, SNC-Lavalin, the Laurentian Bank, the Canadian National and Couche Tard, proud unilingual Anglos, who enable all their senior staff and secretaries to revel in English, whatever their linguistic background. That’s inclusion.

Language oppression is Quebec is particularly offensive in education. René Lévesque’s Bill 101 famously took away the linguistic choice for K-12 to all, except Anglos and immigrants going to English schools prior to 1977, who retain the right to choose and pass it to their descendants for all eternity, and any English-Canadian of any background schooled in English moving to Quebec anytime and their descendants, for all eternity. Appalling.

Granted, the 8 per cent of Anglos have access to 17 per cent of spots in colleges and 25 per cent of universities, with 30 per cent of research grants. The new law would actually cap the Anglo Cegeps at merely double the presence of Anglos in the population. Not only that. These institutions of higher learning used to properly shun Anglo high schoolers that had lesser grades and give their spots to French students bright enough and bilingual enough to enrol there. The anti-Anglo nationalist government now forces these colleges to give precedence to Anglo students in enrolment, thus forcing Anglo institutions into debasing themselves by catering to lesser Anglos. Shameful, really.

Now for the coup de grâce. The inward-looking Quebec government seems to have it in it’s head that Anglo kids should be proficient enough in French to succeed in a work environment where French is still, alas, unavoidable. By law, all Anglo high schoolers with diplomas in hand are deemed bilingual. So why bother asking them, in college, to hone this skill? This idea is so bonkers that when the Quebec Liberal party proposed that Anglo students attend three classes IN French, (alongside their French colleagues who follow ALL classes in English), the scandal was enormous. 

The federation of colleges announced that a full third of Anglo students would fail. Not fare badly, but fail. Pretending that a bilingual person could actually read texts, attend lectures and render a paper in another language is of course nonsensical. One Anglo CEGEP director, Christian Corno, hit it on the nail by writing, in French, that this abomination was motivated by a willingness “to make Anglo students atone for the sins of their ancestors” (who may or may not have oppressed the French in the past, a debatable assertion). 

The fallback position has been to increase the number of French classes that these poor students should take, from two to five. This, also, puts their grades in jeopardy. Forcing students to learn the language of the majority of the population where they live and will work is an unacceptable imposition, surely unheard of anywhere else in the world.

The relentlessness of Quebec’s assaults on minority and religious rights extracts a heavy toll on its international reputation and attractiveness. Last year, only 177,000 foreign temporary workers and students were in the province. Yes, it is triple the usual amount and an all-time high. But just think of those who didn’t come. 

Foreign investment is repelled by the current intolerant climate. FDI in the Montreal area only jumped 69 per cent to a record high of $3.7 billionlast year but this is only attributable to Quebec boasting a recent growth rate greater than that of any G7 countries, Canada included. The fact that these newcomers and investors came to Quebec after the controversy and adoption of the secularism bill and during the language bill controversy simply points to the paucity of information available to them.

Thankfully, for the first time in history, the number of Ontarians moving to Quebec outpaced the number or Quebecers moving to Ontario. It used to be that, each year, 3,000 to 9,000 more Quebecers would leave for Ontario than the other way around. But given the new toxic environment, the flow has flipped and, last year, almost a net 800 brave Ontarianscrossed the Ottawa River to settle in Quebec. (In total, an astonishing 29,000 citizens moved from the Rest of Canada to Quebec in 2021.) Not for lower housing prices or better services or job outlook, but simply, surely, to contribute in defeating the eradication plan afoot. More will be needed. 

Please, come in droves! Hurry, before the last English word is ever spoken in Quebec.

Jean-François Lisée is an author, a columnist for Le Devoir and a former head of the Parti Québécois. This text may contain traces of irony. One may find his rants at

Source: Quebec’s plan to eradicate English

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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