The Status of the French Language in Québec: Under Siege, or Psychosis of Fear?


Every couple of years the Office de la Langue Française publishes a report on the status of the French language in our Province. Inevitably, the report sounds the alarm bells about how French is besieged and constantly under attack by the evil language of Shakespeare, with its spirit of cultural monolithism and hegemony, which wants nothing less than to wipe the French fact off the face of Québec, especially the island of Montréal.

But lets look at the facts: Like I mentioned in a previous article entitled ‘Elvis Gratton is not Stupid’, the French language has made a remarkable comeback on the island of Montréal since Confederation, in large part because of Québec’s adherence to Canada, through the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which encouraged French-Canadians to seek out work in Montréal in the factories, which built the goods which were then shipped west to the 4 western provinces. This caused  the island of Montréal’s population to shift back to becoming a majority French-speaking city, which it wasn’t before Confederation.

French-Canadians then developed a working-class consciousness in and around Montréal, fought for their rights, as did workers everywhere, an elite of college and university-trained intellectuals rose out of their ranks, and laid the groundwork for what would become known as the Quiet Revolution.

The Quiet Revolution helped to modernize our state apparatus in the fields of health care, education, social services, and gave us the para-governmental instruments such as the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement, Societé Générale de Financement (SGF), etc to act on our behalf, allowing us to create a uniquely francophone upper-echelon bourgeoisie, where none had existed before. Previous to this, francophones had only a petit-bourgeoisie of small and medium sized capitalists, who were chronically under financed, and had not the same access to as big a pool of capital as did Anglo-Canadian businessmen.

This big time francophone Québécois business class, the Bombardiers, Provigo, Métro-Richelieu, Cirque de Soleil, Céline Dion, Québecor,etc, would never have been able to emerge without the timely intervention of the Quiet revolution, all begun under a Liberal government, I might add!!!

This upper echelon francophone business class in Montréal is now intricately integrated on the Montréal financial markets, with the Anglo-Montréal business class. It is now also integrated with the Toronto markets through a common stock exchange or ‘guichet unique de valeur mobilière’ as we say in French. This business community is integrated with the business class in Calgary, Halifax, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

We’re a common market of 33 million citizens sharing a common economic union, customs union, monetary union, so why not continue to perpetuate our political union? It just makes sense. ‘C’est le gros bon sens’, like we always hear Québec politicians saying.

Even Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, knows the advantage of doing business with a united Canada. His country, and his country’s multinational corporations especially, like Danone, Axa, Veolia, etc… all have their ‘porte d’entrée’, or gateway, through the province of Québec. But they then have access to a bigger ‘guichet unique’ or common market of 33 million citizens here in Canada for their products, as opposed to just 8 million in Québec. Then, by virtue of a ‘guichet unique’ of our common external tariff with the U.S.A. through NAFTA, they have direct access to a market of 300 million citizens, plus over another 100 million in Mexico!!!

So Nicolas Sarkozy has no interest in playing or replaying the  language politics of 250 years ago on the Plains of Abraham.

Getting back to language, the politics of language in Québec then constantly drifts into a debate dominated by a few nationalist pressure groups based mostly in Montréal, who filter everything in the current and past debate through ‘l’optique’ as we say in French, of the French/English competition on the island of Montréal, ignoring completely the realities of the status of the French language off the island, as if Québec ceased to exist beyond the Lafontaine Tunnel.

If one examines closely this other reality, a different picture emerges altogether. In the wake of the Conquest, the British sent out their army along the south shore of the St. Lawrence river to not only protect us against the Americans, but to also Anglicize the French-Canadians in the countryside. Well, quite the opposite effect occurred. All of those English and Scottish soldiers quickly fell into the arms of pretty French-Canadian girls, and had the opportunity to have land and a home of their own, and to have freedom in their adopted land. The same goes for many of the Irish who came during and after the Potato famine.Within just a couple of generations, all those Rosses, Mac Donalds, MacKenzies, Blackburns, etc became francophones. You’d be hard-pressed to go anywhere in the St-Lawrence valley outside of the Eastern Townships, or much less to the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region and try to have a conversation in English with a Mr. or Mrs. Blackburn!!!

So the reality of assimilation is quite different outside Montréal than on the island. I think we need to look at the broader picture when we hear these journalists and union leaders on Radio-Canada invoking the constant psychosis of fear concerning the ‘recul du Français’. They’ve been saying that practically since Confederation, when, ironically, French became a majority language on the island of Montréal again! Maybe they’re just scared to admit that the ‘Projet de Societé Pan-Canadien’ is actually working, and has been working now for over 141 years. If they did that, then their whole ‘raison d’être’ for their own ‘Projet de Societé’ would evaporate, right?

My learning of the French language and adoption of the French culture has only served to enrich my being, both spiritually, socially, linguistically, economically, and culturally. It in no way has diminished my sense of being an Anglophone. In fact, it has given me a greater appreciation of my native tongue and culture, by being able to analyze and view my own reality from another perspective. In this age of globalization, I think we should have at least embraced Bilingualism by now, because the stakes are now even higher. We’re now openly talking about ‘Plurilingualism’.

So the next time you hear some ‘Tarlas’ Nationalist spokesperson on TVA or Radio-Canada talking about ‘le recul du Français’, take it with a grain of salt: Some people have a vested interest in perpetuating a Psychosis of Fear.

Don’t forget the last couplet of the French O Canada: In exchange for our consent to be part of this Pan-Canadian ‘Projet de Societé’, Canada promised to ‘Protègera nos foyers et nos droits’. So far I’m feeling pretty ‘Protèger’. Et vous?

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