Barbara Kay: Francophone students choosing English-language schools, oh my
"According to a study commissioned by the Centrale des syndicates du Québec (CSQ), Quebec’s largest and reliably nationalist union body, since 1997 more than half of the students enrolled in anglo cegeps (Quebec’s post-secondary, two-year college programs preceding university) come from the francophone and ethnic communities.
The study found that these students chose the anglo institutions expressly because they served as immersion centres for gaining proficiency in English. And why did they wish to learn English? Because — prepare for a shock — they felt they would get better jobs if they spoke both French and English, you see. And if that weren’t insult enough to sovereigntists, the study also found that many students of ethnic background were actually more comfortable speaking English than French.
These findings make perfect sense to any rational and objective person cognizant of the overwhelming career advantage knowledge of English confers everywhere in the world, but they are salt in open wounds to ethnic nationalists."
Ethnic nationalists in Quebec know that independence from Canada is unlikely to be achieved in the near or even distant future, but if the idea is to gain any traction at all as an issue, there is only one way to whip up public attention. That is to sow fears about the erosion of the French language.
The only problem with this strategy is that the French language is alive and well and thriving in Quebec. Bill 101, forcing immigrants’ children into the French educational stream, ensured that virtually Quebec’s entire present generation of young adults is at least proficient, and most of them fluent in French. Apart from downtown Montreal and a few Anglophone-dense neighbourhoods, Quebec is a totally francophone province.
But ethnic nationalists are not satisfied with mere fluency in French. Linguistically, hard core sovereigntists always play a zero-sum game. They perceive every word of English learned as an insult to the French language and their vision of Quebec sovereignty. In their dream palaces, Quebec would be a linguistically cleansed island paradise — or prison, depending on your perspective — in which the right to speak English would be confined to perhaps a few science laboratories and the lobbies of tourist-dense hotels.
In the current situation, once Quebec youth have graduated from high school, they are no longer bound by any language laws and may choose the seat of higher learning of their choice. To language militants, even though such a choice in no way displaces already-acquired French, the trend is a mortal insult. They would love it if the French Language Charter extended Bill 101 to include cegeps, and force students already in the francophone stream to continue their adult studies in French. This would have the salutary (to them) corollary effect of shrivelling the anglo cegep system.
The Parti Québécois has floated the idea of compulsory cegep French streaming several times, but the notion has never grown legs. Even moderate sovereigntists are not so stupid as to believe that their economic and cultural prospects are well-served by unilingualism in a global economy in which English is the universally-acknowledged lingua franca.
The 2006 census showed that Montrealers who use English more than French at work make more money than those who use French more often. Well, of course they make more money, because the areas in which English is an absolute necessity — business, law, retail sales, entertainment, real estate, you name it — are those that pay more than many civil service and unskilled labour jobs, where French unilingualism is no deterrent to job acquisition and security. The study notes: “Our figures show that young people are sensitive to this reality in the workplace.”
Mind you, there are certain people in Quebec who are unilingual, make lots of money and enjoy lifetime benefits: academics, union leaders and provincial politicians (in most ridings). Strangely enough, these are the same people who would deny all other francophones in Quebec the one sure and easy way to augment their odds for career enhancement and economic security. Ideologues have a long history of eating their young, and Quebec sovereigntists are Canada’s prime examples of the syndrome.