In the wake of the Quebec government tabling Bill 14, An Act to amend the Charter of the French language, the [Quebec] Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other legislative provisions to improve yet again the eminence of the French language in Quebec (which I discussed on Slaw last December here), the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (CSLF) is of the opinion that the government needs to take a hard-line approach if it wants French to really be the common language of all Quebecers.
This reinforces the government's approach, as the National Assembly is about to debate the soundness of the Bill.
The council was created to advise the Minister responsible for the implementation of the Charter of the French language on matters relating to the use of the French language in Quebec. To that end, the advisory board re-examined the spirit of the law and provided the Minister, Diane De Courcy, a series of recommendations with the goal of revitalizing the language policy.
There are several recommendations, but the following are of particular importance.
The CSLF believes that the trend in recent years is not meeting the desired objective, which is to make French the normal and everyday language of work of all Quebecers. This is because, among other reasons, between 1989 and 2010, a similar reduction in the use of French in the workplace has occurred in small and large businesses in the private sector. In 2010, 64.7 percent of workers in small organizations (fewer than 50 employees) and 55.7 percent of workers in large organizations (50+ employees) generally used French at work, while these proportions were 74.6 percent and 66.7 percent in 1989. This decrease in the use of French at work is due to an increase in bilingualism (French-English), to varying degrees, or sometimes the more general use of English.
The CSLF acknowledges that the labour market has changed (e.g., due to the globalization of markets, new information technologies and increased immigration) and that knowledge of a language other than French—usually English—is an essential requirement for many jobs in several sectors. However, the CSLF believes that bilingualism cannot and must not become a systemic requirement in the world of work in Quebec, which has a key role to play in integrating newly arrived immigrants into Quebec society. Thus, the council recommends that companies be made subject to a mandatory francization process. The process would be more flexible and less stringent for employers of 25 to 49 persons than for employers with 50 or more.
The council also recommends that Quebec do more to francize immigrants and help them integrate into Quebec society and the marketplace. Of all the immigrants admitted to Quebec between 2001 and 2010, 57.3 percent (252,815) reported upon their arrival that they had knowledge of French. This percentage rises to 62.8 percent (154,252) for immigrants admitted between 2007 and 2011. However, more than 91,000 immigrants (37.2 percent) admitted during those five years did not know French upon their arrival. Thus, the CSLF recommends that the Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Affairs be given the resources necessary to ensure that eligible immigrants can access French courses as soon as possible upon arriving in Quebec, and that these courses go beyond French language training to include cultural awareness of Quebec society. In addition, the council would like government services to be extended to reach a greater number of immigrants who have special francization needs so they can better integrate into Quebec society.
Further, despite a large proportion of immigrants with professional training, many of them remain unemployed. Some of them do not achieve the knowledge of French appropriate to practise their profession in Quebec. In addition, it was discovered in 2003 that more than half of the labour force in Quebec did not reach a level 3 reading skill (to be able to read a relatively dense and long text, to locate multiple elements and make simple inferences). This led to the conclusion that fluency in French by a significant portion of the workforce was not sufficient to meet the needs of employers. In the long run, this hurts business development and the Quebec economy.
Thus, the CSLF recommends that the government act in partnership with professional regulatory bodies, such as the Barreau du Quebec, to provide certain French courses (e.g., specialized vocabulary in the field of training) that meet the level needed by a regulated profession.
The CSLF strongly recommends that all Quebecers have the opportunity to master the French language, and that the government make this goal a priority. Among other measures, the CSLF believes that this goal can be achieved by ensuring that all students who graduate from college, whether in French or English, have acquired appropriate knowledge of French.
Finally, the government must continue to be an example by promoting French in the public sector and government affairs and respecting the linguistic policy. To this end, the CSLF recommends that the government implement measures to increase the integration of allophone and Anglophone workers in the public sector and provide them with the necessary language support.
So, does Quebec's French language policy really need revitalizing?
If you look at the statistics and facts outlined in the council’s report to support the recommendations, I would say yes.
The Charter of the French language came into force in 1977. For over 35 years, we have seen progress, and according to the report, effectively eliminated socioeconomic disparities between Francophones and Anglophones. But that success cannot allow the government to become complacent or mask the amount of continuous work it takes to keep Quebec French strong in all shape, manner, or form.
Quebec must face the evolving socioeconomic reality, in which English-French bilingualism is in increasing demand, the advance of technology (e.g., the Internet and satellite television/radio) has allowed English (and other non-French) media and content to easily penetrate every part of the province, many business-owners have a strong preference to conduct business in English (or another language than French), and numerous other factors. In this context, some will see efforts to force Quebecers to speak French or at least offer services in French as heavy-handed. On the other hand, citizens may be more accepting of efforts to help Quebecers, new and existing, to improve their understanding of French and support businesses of all sizes to introduce or enhance French communication, through general education on Quebec’s culture and the advantages of advancing the French language in the workplace, and specific language training dedicated to particular fields of work.
One way or the other, if Quebec hopes to be successful in improving the level and quality of French usage in the province’s workplaces, it will have to understand the businesses and workers that will be affected—especially the large Anglophone population and the increasing immigrant population. Without the support of these groups, the province will have difficulty advancing its goals.