Last year, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Official Languages produced an enlightened report on the state and needs of Quebec’s anglophone communities.
Titled The Vitality of Quebec’s English-Speaking Communities : From Myth to Reality, it suggested that the anglo minority in Quebec is “caught in a dynamic where it must constantly stand up for its rights, and yet is not necessarily able to promote them.” The committee noted that the anglophone minority has specific needs, and recommended that federal institutions take positive measures to enhance its vitality and support its development.
This month the federal Heritage Department followed up on that recommendation with the announcement of $4.4 million in funding for 22 projects aimed at supporting official-languages development. Of these, 17 went to anglo community groups. Most of them, though not all, centred in the Montreal area.
They included the Quebec Community Groups Network, which functions as an umbrella group for various anglo organizations provincewide. Other beneficiaries included the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations, the Quebec Community Newspapers Association, the Quebec Farmers’ Association, the Quebec 4-H Association and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. Projects for which funding was provided include engaging anglophone-minority communities in cultural-preservation and sustainable-development initiatives, linking literacy and language through community collaboration, and developing a financial-literacy program for retirees.
Seen in a rational light, all of these are eminently deserving organizations and commendable projects. And yet the announcement was met with a firestorm of quasi-hysterical denunciation from the self-anointed defenders of the French language in Quebec, most of whom just happen to be promoters of Quebec separation. The gist of the complaints was that the federal government is deliberately fostering the creeping anglicization of Montreal.
“While French is in retreat in Montreal, it is frankly unacceptable to see the Conservative government spend millions to promote English in our metropolis,” intoned Parti Québécois language critic Yves-François Blanchet. “In Montreal, I rather see the retreat of French and a federal government that collaborates in our anglicization,” added the Bloc Québécois’s Maria Mourani. Other usual suspects piled on : the Société St. Jean Baptiste, the Movement Montréal français and Impératif français.
So, too, perversely enough, did MP Pierre Nantel, speaking for the supposedly federalist New Democratic Party, who suggested that the Conservative government was showing “a form of contempt” in announcing the financing days after the conclusion of an international forum on global promotion of French.
All this is anglophobic nonsense and misrepresentation. For one thing, the grants do nothing to detract from the prevalence of French in the metropolis. For another, the benefits extend to English communities beyond Montreal, many of which are struggling, much in the way of francophone communities in other parts of Canada. It is the mandate of the Heritage Department, acting under the federal Official Languages Act, to help these communities sustain themselves, and that is precisely what is being done.
It might further be noted that the money allocated to anglo groups in this instance is but a fraction of the $33 million being spent this year in aid of francophone groups outside Quebec.
There was fortunately a pertinent and spirited riposte to the howls from the language hawks from Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, who noted that it is the incontestable rise of English as the international lingua franca that is the real threat to French in Quebec, not the province’s English-speaking population, 60 per cent of which is bilingual (a figure that rises to 80 per cent in the 18-to-34 age group).
“The reaction seems to stem from a misunderstanding and a profound incomprehension of the reality of Quebec’s minority English communities,” Fraser wrote in response, noting that it is misguided to interpret gains for the anglo community as a loss for the French in the province.
This point was also made last year by a member of the Senate committee, Senator Andrée Champagne, upon delivery of its report. “It is not an issue of winners and losers,” she said. “A win for anglophone minority rights does not necessarily constitute a threat to the aspirations of the francophone majority. The goals of the two communities do not have to be mutually exclusive, and must be achieved in an atmosphere of respect for the rights of both.”
That is the linguistic reality of Quebec. Unfortunately, it is in the interest of some to deny and distort that reality, be it out of a blind sense of anglophobia or in cynical service of the separatist cause.
Either way, it is despicable.