Immigration to French Canada

By Francois Berger
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 4, Number 2 (Winter 1993-1994)
Issue theme: "An international perspective on migration"

A reduction in immigration is practically the only measure that can prevent the decline of the French language in Quebec, according to a study by the French Language Council.

The study of demographic and language trends, of which La Presse has obtained a copy, is part of a series of inquiries presented last month to the Council at a private seminar on issue related to Quebec's language policies. The Council must soon make recommendations to the Quebec government in connection with the revisions of its language policies.

Immigration to Quebec 'exerts a major but negative impact on the percentage of French-speakers' whose decline is 'inevitable' by the turn of the century, according to Marc Termote, the author of the study, a researcher at the National Institute of Scientific Research (NISR), affiliated with the University of Quebec.

Mr. Termote, who is himself of foreign origin, advocates a 'more restrictive' immigration policy so that French-speakers don't end up as a minority on the island of Montreal in a little over fifty years. In 2046, only 47 percent of Montreal and Laval residents will have French as their everyday language (72 percent in all of Quebec) if immigration is maintained at present levels. Montreal is the preferred destination for nine out of ten immigrants.

Immigrants are more inclined to use English rather than French, according to documentation which also confirms that allophones (those speaking neither French nor English) disproportionately tend to keep their mother tongue. Two-thirds do so in Quebec (less than a third do so in the rest of Canada.)

In just two generations (in the year 2046), Montreal will have a multiethnic face similar to the urban masses in Toronto, Los Angeles, or Marseille, explained Mr. Termote in an interview yesterday at La Presse. By 2001, allophones who keep their native tongue as their everyday language will represent 21 percent of the population of Montreal and Laval islands, and a third of the population by 2046.

Soon after the turn of the century, there will be more allophones than English-speakers in Montreal. Currently, allophones are 13 percent of the population of Montreal and Laval. English-speakers are 24 percent of the region's population, but they leave Quebec for other Canadian provinces in the highest numbers.

According to the study, not only will the proportion of French-speakers decline 'inevitably' in Quebec, and particularly in Montreal, but their actual numbers will also decline. Mr. Termote's statistical data show that, for the first time, the fertility of French-speakers is the lowest of all linguistic groups. Fertility rates for French-speakers in the Montreal region have even gone down below that of English-speakers. It is the allophones who are reproducing most rapidly.

'...the government is left only with

immigration to tinker with as a way

to stop the decline of the French

language in Quebec.'

As French-speakers have very low fertility, and it would be politically unthinkable to engage in pro-natalist policies addressed only to them, the government is left only with immigration to tinker with as a way to stop the decline of the French language in Quebec.

Professor Termote's study shows that immi-grants, three-quarters of them speaking neither French nor English at their arrival in Quebec, favor the use of English over French (3 times as much).

Resorting to French-speaking immigrants cannot be of much help in securing the [future of the] language in Quebec, said Mr. Termote, because it would be politically difficult, once again, to discriminate especially in their favor. Furthermore, it is precisely those coming from the French-speaking countries of Europe that most often leave Quebec after immigrating there.

Mr. Termote is 'very skeptical' about the effectiveness of coercive measures such as the obligation of immigrant children to be schooled in French. 'One doesn't change languages just like that, because of a law,' he said, noting that this generally happens just once in a person's lifetime. Furthermore, the critical age for linguistic transfer is between 25 and 44, 'when the transfer becomes quasi-final,' according to the study.

For Mr. Termote, the only efficient and acceptable way to retain the proportion of French-speakers in Quebec is by restricting immigration. The changeover to French by immigrants is also an 'unavoidable necessity,' he said, but that 'can only yield results in the long term' and it would require that the political measures of francization be very major (the language of work, of communication, of public administration, cultural policies, etc).

The study concludes that in the short or medium term, immigration must be stopped. Right now, the level of immigration to Quebec is historically very high, said Mr. Termote. Last year, Quebec welcomed more than 50,000 immigrants and the level of immigration has quadrupled in the course of the last five years.

In the interview, Mr. Termote stated that in relation to its number of inhabitants, 'Quebec is beating world records' in immigration. Only Australia, which promotes a policy of 'peopling' the land, beats Canada and Quebec on this score. ;

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