Joyal: At stake in Bill 101 decision is the very concept of Canada

Along with other commentary in this vein (Caddell: Bill 101 applying federally? Time for some constitutional common sense):

In recent months there has been a campaign in Quebec, orchestrated by independentist parties and nationalist movements, and now joined by a bi-partisan group of former Quebec premiers, to induce the Canadian government to subject federally chartered agencies and businesses to Bill 101. These entities account for barely four per cent of the labour force, a minimal proportion. The campaign’s goal is to counter what is held to be a “decline of French” in Montreal that is allegedly raging in downtown businesses.

What is at stake in the situation currently facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the very concept of Canada and the principles upon which it is based.

The federal government’s response seems hesitant. Yet the principles of linguistic equality are clear, and section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is eloquent. Seen through that lens, the fundamental nature of Canada serves francophones most of all.

The subtext of this campaign is pernicious: It implies that federally chartered enterprises contribute to the anglicization of Quebec. It overlooks the fact that some of these companies are also subject to the Official Languages Act, which includes precise measures for the provision of services in French and the right of employees to work in the language of their choice (in Quebec, for the majority, French), and that in addition there is a Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure that the law is obeyed.

Who could argue that Radio-Canada and its TV and radio networks could be a cause of the decline of French? That is ludicrous! The French language spoken on its airwaves has always been a model of quality in French Canada; the same is true of the NFB. French is also upheld in other enterprises with a federal charter, such as COGECO, or on 98.5 FM!

The noisy campaign propagated by a popular tabloid, brandishing the threat of an apprehended decline, creates a false perception and seems to be intimidating the defenders of basic principles.

Letting the idea spread that we should reduce the rights of the minority in Quebec could have fateful consequences for francophone minorities in other provinces. Does the defence of modern Canada not deserve better than a dishonourable capitulation? The country has never progressed when it has abandoned a minority. What signal would we be sending for the future of Canada? This retreat would be a very bad omen.

For many years now, it has been the government of Canada that has most efficiently supported the cultural dynamism of Quebec, at all levels.

If we want to reinforce French, we must focus on innovative policies that address the contemporary situation of French, which is controlled by, among other things, the digital platforms that young people prefer.

For example: Adopt strong measures so that French-language works are properly visible on Big Tech, and not simply determined by algorithms that steer and limit users’ choices.

For example: Ensure that the Commissioner of Official Languages’ powers are efficiently reinforced concerning the adoption of French as a language of work and of service. In other words, give the watchdog better tools, rather than abandon the field to provincial officialdom. The interests of the whole country would be far better served.

What I suggest is not surrender to a narrow vision of linguistic and cultural reality that in practice would separate Quebec from the fundamental principles of Canada, but rather a renewed commitment to meet the societal challenges of today’s world with all the tools of public policy at the Canadian government’s disposal.

I think it is timely to voice these concerns: it seems to me that the current discomfort and silence are becoming deafening.Serge Joyal is a retired senator and former member of the House of Commons and federal cabinet minister. In 1980-81, he served as co-chair of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada. This oped is adapted from a letter that he has sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


Pratte: Opinion: Questioning whether French is in decline should not be heresy

A very good example of how to analyze language data in a comprehensive and nuanced manner, using the wide range of language measures in the census and the Rapport sur l’évolution de la situation linguistique au Québec (mother tongue, language most spoken at home, language most spoken at work, language of instruction):

In the wake of a question from MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos that included quotation marks, Minister of Official Languages Mélanie Joly said she was “stunned” and maintained that “we cannot deny at this time that there is a decline in the French language in Montreal and across the country. The statistics show it.”

The decline of French would thus have become an absolute truth, statistical dogma that cannot be contested without risking excommunication — a punishment that was, as a matter of fact, administered to Lambropoulos.

However, the reality is much more complex. In its latest Rapport sur l’évolution de la situation linguistique au Québec, published last year (125 pages of statistics!), the Office québécois de la langue française paints a very nuanced picture of the situation.

Is there a decline? Some data suggest that there is, but several other figures show either stability or progress for francophones, particularly since the francization of immigrant children introduced by Bill 101.

In terms of mother tongue, for example, it is true that the proportion of French speakers slipped from 80.9 per cent to 77 per cent between 1996 and 2016. However, the proportion of anglophones also decreased, from 8.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent. No, the shift from French as a mother tongue has been toward “other” languages, that is, the mother tongues of immigrants. Their children, on the other hand, will go to French school, and French will slowly establish itself from one generation to the next.

Moreover, unlike previous generations, the majority (75 per cent) of recent immigrants who speak a language other than their mother tongue at home adopt French. According to this indicator, within the immigrant population, French is not declining at all, it is on the rise.

Data on language of work and language of instruction provide an equally nuanced picture. For example, on the island of Montreal, the number of children entitled to English-language education under Bill 101 dropped by one-third, from 75,256 to 50,416 students between 1986 and 2015.

Where the problem lies is in the language used in downtown retailers. The survey published by Le Journal de Montréal a few days ago confirms the data collected by the Office, according to which the proportion of stores in downtown Montreal where customers are greeted in French decreased sharply from 2010 to 2017, from 86.2 per cent to 72 per cent for stores in shopping centres, and from 89.5 per cent to 73.6 per cent for stores fronting on the street. These drops occurred in favour of English and of Bonjour-Hi. That said, once past the initial greeting, service in French was available in 96 per cent of cases, a proportion that has not changed since 2010.

We cannot therefore speak of a general decline in French. It all depends on what exactly we’re talking about. The government — and Quebec society in general — must certainly act to ensure that customers are received in stores first and foremost in French. It must be clearly indicated that the main language in Quebec is French.

However, the problems with how customers are greeted in stores do not justify an all-out linguistic offensive, even though such a policy would be popular. We will have to think twice, for example, before imposing Bill 101 on businesses under federal jurisdiction, when there is nothing to indicate that the problem of the “decline” of French is rooted in this sector, which accounts for less than four per cent of the province’s workers. It is surprising, moreover, that the government of Canada has not categorically rejected this blatant intrusion into its jurisdiction.

In short, one cannot speak of a decline of French in Quebec without putting a lot of nuances into it. We can say this while affirming that the situation of French in Quebec will always remain fragile and that, consequently, vigilance is required. However, in order to ensure that policies in this area continue to be well informed, it is absolutely necessary to authorize and encourage debate and questioning, even accompanied by quotation marks.

In short, one cannot speak of a decline of French in Quebec without putting a lot of nuances into it. We can say this while affirming that the situation of French in Quebec will always remain fragile and that, consequently, vigilance is required. However, in order to ensure that policies in this area continue to be well informed, it is absolutely necessary to authorize and encourage debate and questioning, even accompanied by quotation marks.

André Pratte, former journalist and former senator, is a principal at Navigator.


Women in federally regulated workforce declining: study – iPolitics

While the focus of the article is with respect to women, the other results are just as interesting (the largest federally regulated industries are telecoms, banking and transport, and the large retail presence in the first two – think of those cell phone pop-up stands or bank branches – mean strong representation of visible minorities):

The Employment Equity Act Annual Report tracks employment in federal federally regulated industries such as banking, communications and transportation.

The study found that transportation companies had the worst track record when it came to employment equity. Women made up only 27.2 per cent of the employees in private sector transportation sector companies, 14.2 per cent of the workforce were members of visible minorities and 2 per cent had a disability. The only area in which the transportation industry fared better than others was with aboriginal peoples who made up 2.8 per cent of the employees.

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The banking sector had the best track record with three of the four employment equity groups. Women made up 61.5 per cent of the workforce in banking, 30.2 per cent were members of visible minorities and 4 per cent had a disability. However, banking had the lowest proportion of aboriginal Canadians of any sector at 1.3 per cent.

Communications came up the middle with women at 37.4 per cent, visible minorities at 18.6 per cent, people with disabilities at 2.3 per cent and aboriginal peoples making up 1.8 per cent of the employees.

In a fourth category that mixed several different federally regulated industries from metal ore mining and wood to public administration or professional, scientific and technical services, 30.9 per cent of employees were women, 12.2 per cent came from visible minorities, 4.5 per cent were aboriginal and 2.6 per cent had disabilities.

…There was a gap between men and women who come from visible minorities. While 52.1 per cent of visible minority men working in federally regulated industries earned over $60,000, that dropped to 39.8 per cent of women.

Overall, employment equity in federally regulated sectors is improving, the study found.

“Employers are showing greater interest and awareness in employment equity through their commitment to implementing short-term and long-term measures in the workplace, including improvements to hiring and retention processes, accessible training and networking opportunities for advancement and overall evidence of employment equity integration into day-to-day activities.”

Source: Women in federally regulated workforce declining: study – iPolitics