Some interesting news on the revived language debate in Québec. With Francophone nationalism at a House of Commons level suffering something of an electoral meltdown in the recent Canadian general election the focus amongst some Québécois activists has shifted to the French language itself. Even the nominally federalist NDP, an all-Canada party with its strongest (if possibly temporary) support in Québec, has found itself dragged into the renewed push for broader, and deeper, language rights’ legislation. Relatively new kid on the block, the regionalist (rather than nationalist) Québec solidaire is also caught up in the momentum, as reported in the Montreal Gazette:
“More than 400 members of Québec solidaire gathered in Montreal this weekend to shape the party’s ideological future and prepare for what promises to be a tumultuous political year ahead, and passed resolutions calling for increased protection for the French language.
The weekend’s meetings focused mainly on cementing the party’s stance on big issues like education, health care, social justice and the French language.
Delegates rejected a resolution to extend Bill 101, Quebec’s French-language charter, to CEGEPs [public colleges]. However, they adopted a proposal against making the knowledge of English a hiring requirement unless it is shown to be indispensable for a position.
There are also measures to strengthen the learning of English in French schools so that many Quebecers who feel the need to go to English CEGEPs won’t be obliged to do so, Khadir said.
The party said it also wants to ensure a mastery of French and a good knowledge of francophone Quebec culture among all students in French and English CEGEPs.”
However the best analysis is contained in article in the Winnipeg Free Press, with the focus on the bilingual, and bicommunal, city of Montreal:
“MONTREAL – While the Quebec independence movement may appear doomed, at least for the foreseeable future, a growing sensitivity over language has emerged in its place.
In normal times, language debates are like Montreal’s regular street traffic — the noise that inevitably hums in the background while the city goes about its business.
These days, it’s more like a bottleneck: a loud, horn-honking cacophony after a long stretch of relative calm.
Nearly every day lately, there has been a new story to fuel radio rants, newspaper headlines or political debates in the provincial legislature.
There was the threat of a bank boycott. News that provincial pension-fund meetings were being held in English. Published anecdotal reports of hip, trendy Anglos moving to Montreal and never bothering to learn French — a so-called “new breed” of unilingual Anglo. Then there was the radio host who mocked the accent of local Anglo politicians. The school board that planned a French-only policy in the schoolyard, and the Parti Quebecois politician who said he won’t be taking any more English questions at news conferences.
In the last two days alone, employees have raised concerns in news stories about their ability to work in French at Montreal’s ambulance service, at Air Canada, at Bombardier Aerospace and at the CGI high-tech firm.
Some are clearly welcoming a linguistic reawakening. Some are actively stirring it.
Others, befuddled by all the sudden attention to the language issue, are wondering: Why now?
“People thought the debate was over, that it has been resolved, but things can change very quickly,” said Guy Lachapelle, a political scientist at Concordia University with ties to the Parti Quebecois.
Could the province’s fading sovereignty movement and diminished power in Ottawa be behind the revival of language politics?
For 35 years, the sovereigntist cause served as a soothing option in the event that Quebecers felt their language and culture threatened within Canada.
But several recent political events appear to have taken that option off the table, for now.
Polls show support for independence at a near-historic low of 33 per cent. The separatist Bloc Quebecois was virtually wiped off the map in the last federal election. Its provincial cousin, the PQ, is in disarray.
Meanwhile, Quebec holds less clout within government than perhaps anytime in decades and it could lose even more power within the House of Commons if demographic trends continue.
Old anxieties are now washing ashore, as the sovereigntist tides recede.
One political analyst says concerns about French have always been there, not just for PQ and Bloc supporters but for the majority of Quebecers.
“It’s an issue that’s present in the Quebec environment and it’s not about to go away,” said Pierre Martin, a professor at Universite de Montreal.
“Sometimes it takes a flare in the media to reinvigorate this opposition, and this is what we are seeing right now.”
One magazine feature, recently republished in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, described a “new breed” of unilingual Anglo who has chosen to settle in Montreal’s trendy Mile End — a neighbourhood known for its world-class bagels, lively coffee shops, video-game designers and music scene associated with indie rock phenomenon Arcade Fire. It’s the kind of place that helped Montreal land on a recent New York Times list of 10 hip cities to live and work, along with others like Berlin, Barcelona and Shanghai.
The author of the feature describes her run-ins there with a new generation of unilingual Anglos. One was a woman who moved to Montreal and, although she managed to learn Swahili for a work project in Africa, never bothered to learn Quebec’s official language. The author suggests this type of hip new Montrealer is open to the world and curious about everything — except Quebec’s culture.
A CBC radio program profiled one such Anglo, a young man from Toronto who settled here eight years ago and emphatically declared he has no plans to learn French.
While that specific case may be quite rare, and not entirely new, the interview hit a nerve with many Montrealers — French and English alike.
A prominent magazine blogger and sovereignty activist subsequently asked readers to contribute anecdotes of their own encounters with unilingual anglophones.
The full article makes for some very interesting reading – not least in the contrasting attitudes between the Québécois and the Gaeilgeoirí. While one demands their rights the other pleads for theirs. That is perhaps why the population of Québec is 80% French-speaking while in Ireland the population is 42% Irish-speaking. Though of course that 42% would want to be brave to speak Irish in most parts of Ireland unless they want to face bigotry, threats, ignorance or, say, being sacked from your job for speaking in your native language in your native country.
Does that happen in Québec? One thinks not. Nor could it.
So when will the Gaeilgeoirí learn from the Québécois?