ADIEU TO OFFICIAL BILINGUALISM?
Not many tears will be shed in many areas of the country if official bilingualism ends. Many Calgarians will cheer when the bilingual signs come down at Calgary International Airport. Those offended by the French on their Corn Flakes boxes will be able to eat their breakfasts in peace. Those who deal with the frustrations of federal government voice mail will only get the runaround in one official language instead of two. Government publications will only weigh half as much. Preston Manning will be relieved that he will no longer have to take French lessons to prepare for the next French leader's debate.
Yet none can deny that official bilingualism has been a noble cause. Pierre Trudeau and his two sidekicks, Gerard Pelletier and Jean Marchand came to Ottawa thirty years ago to change the unilingual English face of Canadian government and change it they did. The idea of making the federal government an institution that functions equally in French and in English and provides equal opportunities to both francophones and anglophones is praiseworthy and after some initial resistance came to be accepted as something distinctly Canadian.
Who could argue with encouraging thousands of anglophone bureaucrats to learn French so they could communicate with the 25 per cent of Canadians who have French as their mother tongue? Is it not simply a question of basic equity to assure that francophones could find postal services in their language in Halifax or a French-language TV station in Vancouver? Or have Ottawa help to keep linguistic minorities alive from Newfoundland to British Columbia?
As tensions have grown in Confederation between Quebec and the rest of the country -- tensions that bilingualism was ironically supposed to help alleviate -- criticism of official bilingualism has intensified. The growing fiscal crunch hasn't helped. But the true believers have remained attached to official bilingualism as evidence of the fundamental understanding between anglophone and francophone Canadians that underlies Confederation. These believers, Conservatives and New Democrats as well as Liberals, have rejected the Reform Party's critique of official bilingualism as narrow-minded and mean-spirited. When in power, they have pressed on with the promotion of official bilingualism even as Quebec moved in the opposite direction towards French unilingualism and several provinces lagged on recognition of French rights.
Although the armies of translators and language teachers employed by the federal governmen will have trouble adjusting, most partisans of official bilingualism will quickly recognize how quixotic it would be to continue the fight if Quebec leaves Confederation. When more than 85 per cent of Canada's French-speakers have become citizens of a foreign country, much of the justification for official bilingualism will disappear. Yet francophones will remain the largest second-language group in Canada even after Quebec splits, ahead of Chinese and Italian speakers. Canadians will have to make sure that in the inevitable rush to unravel official bilingualism, in the form we have come to know and love, the fundamental principles of justice and decency prevail.
The end of official bilingualism will, unfortunately, hasten the decline of minority language communities but that decline has been going on anyway.
While official bilingualism has expanded since the initial passage of the Official Languages Act in 1969, the relative demographic strength of the anglophone community in Quebec and of the francophone community in the rest of Canada has actually weakened. The sources of this decline are dramatically different for the two communities. For Quebec's anglophones, it's the persistent departure for other provinces of thousands of community members over the past 25 years. For francophones outside Quebec, it's the slow and steady assimilation into the majority anglophone community.
During the peak of the exodus from 1976 to 1981, a total of 130,000 anglophones left Quebec while only 25,000 came to the province from elsewhere in Canada. The result is that both the number and proportion of Quebecers with English as their mother tongue have dropped dramatically, from a peak of 790,000 in 1971, representing 13.1 per cent of the Quebec population, to 626,000 or 9.2 per cent in 1991. In the same period, the percentage of Quebeckers with French as their mother tongue has climbed to 82 per cent of the Quebec population from 80.7 per cent. The proportion with other mother tongues has also grown, to 8.8 per cent from 6.2 per cent.
Not only have Quebec's French-only language policies aided and abetted this phenomenon by making anglophone Quebeckers no longer feel at home in Quebec, they have made it impossible for the English Quebec community to maintain its numbers. By restricting access to Quebec's English schools to children of those educated in English in Canada, Quebec has denied the anglophone community the opportunity to replenish itself through immigration. When English-speaking immigrants arrive in Montreal from Jamaica, Sri Lanka, or Plattsburgh, N.Y., their kids are sent off immediately to a French school, even though there may be a publicly-funded English school down the street. Is it any wonder that the number of children in English schools in Quebec has fallen from close to 250,000 in 1970-71 to fewer than 100,000 in 1991-92? And that many English schools have been closed? Other than through an anglophone "revenge of the cradle", there's no way to turn back the clock. Even when Quebec separatism was dormant in the 1980s and Quebec's economy was looking up, the exodus continued. As a Task Force on English Education in Quebec concluded in 1992, "If the (the English-speaking community) is prevented from renewing itself, it will simply fade away."
A survey prepared for the English-rights group, Alliance Quebec, in the fall of 1992 showed that 64 per cent of English-speaking youth in Quebec's schools said they planned to leave Quebec within five years. Despite higher rates of bilingualism in the anglophone community, there is no indication that outmigration would do anything but accelerate if Quebec secedes. Efforts to switch the loyalty of anglo-Quebeckers to Quebec first have failed. Anglophone Quebecers are basically English-speaking Canadians who live in Quebec. They may have shed their previous resistance to recognize the French fact and become more bilingual than ever before but they still see themselves as Canadians first.
For the rest of Canada, a renewed exodus of anglophones from Quebec should be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden. Anglophone Quebecers would be some of the best-educated and most easily assimilated immigrants around. Of the anglophones between 25 and 44 years old who left Quebec between 1981 and 1986, more than half, a total of 15,000 individuals, had university degrees. Quebec anglophones have also tended to take their jobs with them when they leave. Think of all the high-paying jobs Toronto has gained in the past 20 years with the transfer of Montreal-based companies like Northern Telecom, Sun Life Assurance, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal. (Both banks continue to have their legal headquarters in Montreal but most of their head-office functions are handled out of Toronto, leaving only a hollow shell.) If this exodus is to continue, Canada should make sure it catches the jobs up for grabs. The potential for other moves remains substantial. Air Canada, BCE Inc., Canadian Pacific and Crown-owned Canadian National, as well as any other corporation running a Canada-wide business out of Montreal, will find it increasingly difficult to justify its head office location in a foreign country.
Other institutional departures are possible as well. Back in the 1970s, there were persistent rumours that McGill University might establish a satellite campus just over the border in Ontario. While it's unrealistic to imagine that all of McGill, which is deeply rooted in Montreal and receives much of its funding from the Quebec government, will pick up and leave, partial moves are not out of the question. If individual faculty don't want to stay in Quebec, they can certainly look elsewhere for jobs. In 1976, the Arctic Institute dropped its longtime affiliation with McGill and moved to the University of Calgary. The Quebec government was not pleased. It tried to halt the transfer of the institute's collection of 30,000 books through the courts, but by the time the injunction was issued, the books were already on trucks securely moving through Ontario.
PRECIOUS ASSET OR THREAT
When it comes to the future of English and anglophones in Quebec, the Parti Québécois is of two minds. The party program speaks glowingly of the anglophone community as "a precious asset" to a sovereign Quebec, which can use its connections in North America and beyond to help a globalizing Quebec economy. The party promises to include in a Quebec constitution the continued right to speak English in the Quebec National Assembly, to use English in the courts and to maintain an English-language educational system from preschool to university. It also promises to protect English-language health and educational institutions and to boost anglophone representation in the provincial civil service, now accounting for less than 1 per cent of the total. In his first statement after being elected as premier, Jacques Parizeau spoke of how Quebec's minority status has made it "extremely sensitive to the fate of minorities in Quebec. And we intend to be beyond reproach on this score."
Despite this openness and generosity, the PQ program also denounces the concept of official bilingualism as a "pernicious" form of federal interference and includes several proposals aimed specifically at weakening the place of English in Quebec. It calls for the Francization of the air waves by "correcting the historic imbalance" in granting broadcasting licences in Montreal, presumably to reduce the number of English stations; reinstitution of the French-only sign law, further restriction of access to English-language schools and junior colleges; and extension of the law forcing business to operate in French to all companies with at least 10 employees, down from 50.
Of course, separatists will claim that they're all for personal bilingualism. It's only institutional bilingualism they're against. So Parizeau has enraged some of his own supporters by insisting that bilingualism is essential for the Quebec of the future. "I'll boot the rear end of anyone who can't speak English. In our day and time, a small people like us must speak English."
As much as we hate to credit him for anything, Parizeau is right. An independent Quebec will need English as much or more than it did as a Canadian province. Nationalist ideology may argue for French as the language of work, but if Quebec is going to keep and attract jobs in high technology areas like aerospace, pharmacuticals and computer software, knowledge of English will continue to be essential. There's no doubt that pulp mills and aluminum smelters can be run in French, as they are now, but it's a different matter for sectors that require a heavy technological input. When engineers from Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries come to Montreal to work with engineers from Canadair on the design of a new business jet, they easily find a common language. And it's not French or Japanese. It's English. And as Quebec anglophones become increasingly bilingual, their value as intermediaries with the rest of North America could end up growing.
Yet much of the appeal of separatism has been aimed at righting the "historic" wrongs visited on Quebec by its once dominant minority. One of the peculiar twists of fate that has haunted Quebec nationalism is that this minority spoke English, which was to become the key international language. If the language of the so-called "Westmount Rhodesians" had been Afrikaans or Potuguese, for example, Quebec's revolt against its minority wouldn't have ended up being so damaging. In trying to get back at the traditional "Anglo boss" or the legendary anglophone saleslady at Eaton's department store in Montreal who provided unilingual service to a such a large proportion of Quebec's separatists, Quebec has at the same time made it more difficult to attract international business that uses English as its lingua franca. In Belgium, for example, the feuding French and Dutch-speaking communities can reject each other's language by learning English, which also gets them ahead internationally.
In effect, separatists are promising the anglophone community constitutional guarantees as long as the community knows its place and doesn't stick out too much. Indeed, as the anglophone community shrinks, it will likely be seen as less of a threat. But that doesn't mean it will ever be encouraged to grow again. Even if a separate Quebec doesn't adopt a vengeful approach to anglophone rights and does guarantee a series of rights for English-speaking Canadians, it's unlikely to reverse the decline that has been going on for decades. The end result is that a separate Quebec will increasingly use English but as a second language by francophones. Anglophones will continue to vanish.
Even with this continued decline, the anglophone community in Quebec will be proportionally much larger than the francophone community outside Quebec. Anglophones still account for just under 10 per cent of the total Quebec population (12 per cent if you count English as the home language). That's double the proportion that francophones represent in Canada outside Quebec (4.8 per cent if you count mother tongue and only 3.2 per cent if you use home language as an indicator.) Quebec anglophones are also highly concentrated in the Montreal area -- more than 80 per cent live in the region -- where they have a strong institutional network of schools, hospitals and universities as well as an influential, if declining, role in the economy.
English Canadians may feel pangs of guilt about "abandoning" their cousins in Quebec in the event of secession but it's a process of decline that's been ongoing for decades and even a rejection of separation by Quebeckers won't quickly turn around.
FRANCOPHONES CONTINUE TO ASSIMILATE
In Canada outside Quebec, what's killing the francophone communities isn't emigration. It's assimilation. As long as francophones were living in largely-homogeneous rural and semi-rural communities, whether in Northern Ontario or on the Prairies, their French language and culture insulated them from the anglophone sea around them. But as francophones became urbanized and secularized, they have tended to lose their language, especially outside their strongholds of northern New Brunswick and of Eastern and Northern Ontario.
This tendency to assimilate is most evident when you compare the statistics for the population with French as their mother tongue and those with French as home language, defined as the language used most often in the home. The 1991 census identified 976,400 Canadians outside Quebec whose mother tongue was French, an increase of 50,000 over 1981. But when you look at the statistics for people outside Quebec with French as their home language, the total plummets to 636,000, a drop of 30,000 from the same period 10 years ago. In other words, there are hundreds of thousands of French Canadians outside Quebec who spoke French as children now speaking English at home. It's particularly dramatic in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, where three times as many report having French as their mother tongue than as their home language. But even in Ontario, the 1991 census showed there are 503,000 people with French as their mother tongue but only 318,000 who speak French at home as their main language. Only in New Brunswick do the vast majority of francophones retain French as their home language.
The dark side of Canada's treatment of its francophone minority, including Ontario's notorous Regulation 17, which all but banned public-scool instruction in French during the early part of the century, is no more. Assimilation is not being forced on francophones outside Quebec but it's happening nevertheless as inter-marriage and the overwhelming strength of English take their toll.
Francophones outside Quebec have also seen a drop in the school-age children in French-language education programs over the past 20 years. From 1970 to 1992, those numbers dropped by 19 per cent to 160,000 from 196,000, but they did grow slightly in the last few years of that period.
Francophones outside Quebec are still subject to a wide range of rights depending on where they live. It varies from officially-bilingual New Brunswick, where francophones constitute almost 35 per cent of the population and have a full range of educational, hospital and government services to a province like British Columbia where only 17,000 residents use French at home, or less than 1 per cent of the population, and where there are no provincially-supplied French-language services except for a few schools and federal services that include CBC French radio and TV stations in Vancouver.
For francophones outside Quebec, relations with Quebec are complex. They have traditionally received little money and even less encouragement from Quebec governments in their fight for education and other language rights. Speaking of getting stabbed in the back, Quebec even intervened before the courts to oppose the demands of a group of Alberta francophones to run their own schools, worried that whatever rights francophones got in Alberta would be used to bolster English rights in Quebec. And separatists have long argued that Quebec has to become sovereign because only it can assure the continued protection of French in North America. That's why francophones outside Quebec were considered "dead ducks" by René Lévesque. If French could survive outside Quebec, separatists would lose a major argument in favor of separation.
This has led to a continuing undercurrent of tensions between successive Quebec governments and francophones outside Quebec. Yet francophones outside Quebec have benefitted greatly from official bilingualism and the expansion of French services in the provinces, both of which have resulted at least in part from efforts to counter the rise of Quebec nationalism. The problem for francophones outside Quebec is that if this nationalism leads to actual separation, the political dynamic will change forever and they will be left on their own. And don't expect thousands to emigrate to Quebec either. Although artists like New Brunswick writer Antonine Maillet and Manitoba singer Daniel Lavoie now make Montreal their home, the number of francophones moving to Quebec is tiny in compared with the movement of anglophones in the other direction. Not only have economic opportunities in Quebec been less than sterling in recent years but there remain large cultural differences between francophones outside Quebec and their Québécois brethren.
One ironic result of sovereignty could actually be an increase in the francophone population of a city like Ottawa. If the federal government insists that its bureaucrats live in Canada to keep their jobs, a certain number of francophones could abandon Quebec for the Ontario side of the border. In addition, some francophone federalists from Quebec who feel strongly about remaining in Canada could also decide that migration will be the answer, although this flow may only serve to counteract the migration of the few francophones from outside Quebec who may decide the future of their language and culture lie with a separate Quebec. So while the long-term future of francophones outside will become gloomy, separation shouldn't bring any huge flow of people from other provinces to Quebec.
BYE BYE TO B AND B
If Quebec becomes sovereign, federal support for official bilingualism as we have known it will surely die. With Quebec gone, the federation will cease to be a bargain between English and French founding nations. Bilingualism will become an issue for individual provinces. Nothing will stop New Brunswick, the only bilingual province, from retaining French as an official language or Ontario from providing certain services to its minority. But Ottawa will eventually be out of the bilingual business.
This doesn't mean banning French from the House of Commons or ordering Canada Post clerks in Bathurst, N.B. to stop speaking French. But with fewer than 5 per cent of the Canadian population having French as a mother tongue, official bilingualism can't be expected to survive in its current form. The systematic translation of all federal documentation -- 246 million words in 1993-94 -- may make sense when one-quarter of Canada's population is francophone but it's hardly logical when 85 per cent of those francophones are living in a foreign country. What's more, over 80 per cent of the francophones outside Quebec already consider themselves bilingual. It makes no sense for the federal government to be officially bilingual in all it does for fewer than 200,000 unilingual francophones, who will account for just 1 per cent of the population after Quebec leaves.
The constitution now includes protections for both languages, including equal access for English and French to Parliament and the federal courts and guarantees for the public to receive services from the government and to communicate with the federal government in either official language. The constitution also includes protection for linguistic minorities. These guarantees will have to be changed sooner or later to reflect the new linguistic makeup of Canada. The right to use French in the courts and Parliament could be retained but a blanket guarantee of access to service in French from the federal government will probably have to go.
But there need not be any rush. These changes can be made to the constitution along with other revisions that would result from any rejuggling of Confederation that takes place once the dust over Quebec separation has settled.
In fact, any move to eliminate language guarantees in the immediate aftermath of separation will simply look vindictive. Canadians will want to show as much generosity as is reasonable. But even without changes to the constitution, the dismantling of some aspects of official bilingualism will begin quickly. The French-language CBC will begin to implode once Quebec departs as will the French operations of National Film Board and Telefilm Canada. That doesn't mean there can't be limited French-language broadcast services in New Brunswick and Ontario, where numbers of warrant and that cable systems can't pick up French signals from Quebec.
When it comes to education, Ottawa's role in support of linguistic minorities is also destined to end, with francophones increasingly on their own. Francophones in New Brunswick, who account for 34 per cent of the population, obviously have enough clout demographically to continue to continue demanding education in their own language. In Ontario, francophones make up a much smaller portion of the population, just 5 per cent if mother tongue is counted, but they are concentrated in northern and eastern Ontario where they have some electoral weight. In other provinces, where numbers and concentrations are considerably smaller, the fate of francophones will be much more precarious.
SAVINGS WON'T BE HUGE, BUT EVERY NICKEL COUNTS
Are there savings to be had from eliminating official bilingualism? Without a doubt, but anybody who thinks it will go very far in paying down the $550-billion national debt is dreaming. Thinking that the elimination of bilingualism will solve Canada's deficit problem is as naive as believing separatist claims that Quebec will save billions by eradicating "duplication and overlap" of federal and provincial programs. Ottawa spends about $650-million a year on clearly-identified official language programs, with about half on language programs in government and the other half on aid to education. The $300-million price tag of federal services in both languages includes the cost of translation and interpretation, language training and the $50-million spent on the $800-per-year bilingualism bonus currently paid to 64,000 federal civil servants. This doesn't count the cost of replacing civil servants during their class time or the far from trivial organizational cost of operating in a fully bilingual environment.
The rest of the $650-million goes primarily towards subsidizing minority-language education in the provinces -- for anglophones in Quebec and francophones outside Quebec -- as well as assistance for teaching second languages through immersion and other programs. The aid to education includes special deals to assist major projects, including an $80-million grant to Ontario for establishment of three French-language community colleges. Another $65-million goes to the promotion of the official languages, which includes everything from grants for the presentation of bilingual plays to a co-operation agreement with Newfoundland for language training of provincial civil servants.
Even if Ottawa slashes all this spending, it isn't certain taxpayers will save the $650-million. Without federal funds, francophone children outside Quebec will still have to be educated and, except where schools and classes are very small, there's nothing inherent more expensive about education in French. In other words, the provinces may have to pick up the slack left for minority-language education if federal funding is dries up.
Others claim that the real price of bilingualism is actually much higher than the $650-million acknowledged by Ottawa. Scott Reid, a researcher for the Reform Party and author of Lament for a Notion, The Life and Death of Canada's Bilingual Dream, claims that official bilingualism actually cost $4-billion to the Canadian economy in 1992, including $1.7-billion in direct federal government expenditures and $2-billion in private-sector compliance costs with federal language rules. Yet his justification for these huge numbers isn't entirely convincing.
Reid also argues that the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act passed by Ottawa in 1974, which requires bilingual labels, costs consumers $2-billion a year in higher prices, a cost he doesn't document. The logic works this way. If Canada were an English-only country, companies wouldn't have to have to include "confiture" on jam jars or "Fabriqué en Corée" on VCR crates alongside the "Made in Korea" label. Companies would save millions of dollars by not being required to run shorter production runs for Canada. Consumers would be able to save lots of money by buying Heinz ketchup made for the U.S. market. If Quebec wanted to require French labels, its consumers alone would pay the extra cost and not all Canadians.
That's fine as far as it goes. The only trouble is, bilingualism isn't the only requirement of Canada's labeling laws. These rules also require metric sizing and different nutritional and ingredient information, which means that Canadian labels would still be different from American ones. And even if those requirements weren't there, manufacturers would still want a label for the Canadian market that includes their Canadian address and a 1-800 number for consumer complaints. According to the Grocery Product Manufacturers of Canada, the biggest obstacle to the introduction of common products in Canada and the United States are different standards on what goes into foods. For example, Canada and the United States permit different artificial sweeteners and colouring agents in food products, forcing a change in formulations for products sold in both countries. It's what goes into the cans rather than what's printed on the outside that cost consumers extra.
What of the 250,000 Canadian children outside Quebec registered in French immersion programs? Parents who lined up overnight to register little Tyler or Kimberley in immersion, figuring it was a ticket to a secure job in a bilingual federal civil service may have second thoughts. So will some parents who jumped onto the immersion bandwagon in the hopes of "saving" Canada. But many may still want French immersion because they believe in the value of teaching a second language to children at a young age. Canadians may be less inclined to learn French for Quebec's sake but the importance of learning a second language endures.
THE WHOLE WORLD'S WATCHING
A sovereign Quebec would also be scrutinized closely to make sure it was treating its linguistic minority fairly. In a brief to the National Assembly committee on sovereignty, University of Montreal law professor José Woehrling warned that when it comes to the future of Quebec anglophones, the world will be watching. "It must be realized that Quebec would provoke a lot of resentment in English Canada and would tarnish its image in international public opinion if, in acceding to sovereignty, it decided to reduce or abolish the constitutional rights that minorities have traditionally enjoyed."
This is a message that Canadians in the rest of the country should remember as well. Any move to restrict the rights of francophones outside Quebec that smacks of vindictiveness will not reflect well on Canada as a whole. But a withdrawal from active promotion of bilingualism can be seen as perfectly reasonable. In other words, an edict shutting French schools in St-Boniface, Manitoba, or eliminating the right to French-language trials in Ontario might be seen as a nasty and unjustified reaction of English Canadians to the secession of Quebec. Eliminating French lessons for thousands of federal bureaucrats, stopping the automatic translation of technical documents for every piece of equipment the defence department owns and ending subsidies to French-language newspapers in Nova Scotia and Alberta would simply be a logical and measured response to a new demographic and political reality.
One way of protecting minority rights favoured by Quebec separatists involves the signature of reciprocity agreements between Quebec and the rest of Canada. It's an idea that was first floated by René Lévesque in the late 1970s as part of the restrictions his government was placing on access to English schools in Quebec. Written into the French Language Charter was a section that allowed English-speaking children moving to Quebec from another province access to English schools provided their home province offered French schooling equivalent to that offered in English to Quebec anglophones. So far, Quebec has determined that only New Brunswick reaches this high standard. But this has remained a largely theoretical question until now because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has allowed the children of any Canadian who has been educated in English anywhere in Canada to be educated in English in Quebec.
Despite Lévesque's efforts, these reciprocity agreements have always been rejected by the other premiers. But expect the idea to be back on the table if Quebec separates. We believe it's something that should continue to be rejected because it implies making one's minority population hostage to the policies of another country. Decisions on access to French education should be made by Canadian provinces according to their traditions, political process and demographic realities, not merely because Quebec threatens to cut off access to its English schools.
Just as Quebec will have strong historical reasons to maintain the rights of its English-speaking population, so too will the rest of the country have reason to maintain some of the rights of its French-speaking minority. What will wither away is the federal government's active promotion of institutional bilingualism on a national level. In other words, the provinces are not about to shut down French schools in New Brunswick or in Sudbury because Quebec separates. But those schools will have to depend on provincial funding to survive. A federal role in supporting minority-language education will be no more.
With Quebec's exit from confederation, official bilingualism willend and English will become Canada's sole official language. Canada will continue to have a minority of francophones with historic rights to education and other services, but without French as an official language. English will be the language of administration in the federal government and Ottawa's active promotion of two official languages will end. With Quebec gone, Canada will be as English as a separate Quebec will be French.