Graeme Hamilton, National Post - MONTREAL - The decline of Quebec’s English-speaking community — long looked upon with indifference, if not outright glee, by the francophone majority — will be the subject of a major academic conference opening tonight at the province’s largest French-language university.
Over three days, Quebec anglophones will be subjected to the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for vanishing Third World tribes as the conference at Universite de Montreal explores ways to "revitalize" the once-powerful anglo community.
Richard Bourhis, director of a research centre on ethnic studies and the conference’s scientific consultant, has taken up the challenge of making Quebec anglophones a "legitimate" topic of research among his francophone colleagues.
"I’m trying to build up the idea that it’s OK to do research on the anglophones of Quebec," said Mr. Bourhis, a francophone professor of social psychology who studied at McGill University and in England.
"It’s interesting because it’s a minority within a minority society in North America.… There are interesting issues about majority-minority relations from the economic, sociological and cultural perspectives."
The conference will cover a broad range of topics, from demographic trends to artistic expression. The workshop titles give a hint that the news is not rosy.
"Current and future perspectives of English in Quebec education : What should those who remain do ?" an education professor at Universite de Montreal asks. Another researcher will address "the socio-economic status of English-speaking Quebecers : Those who leave and those who stay."
Speakers from outside academia include Graham Fraser, the federal official languages commissioner, Josee Verner, the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage and Yolande James, Quebec’s lone anglophone Cabinet minister.
Andre Pratte, editorial page editor at La Presse, will address the conference tomorrow on Quebec media coverage of the anglophone minority. He said in an interview that many Quebecers’ attitudes have not changed from the days when anglophones were seen as fat-cat businessmen determined to squash the French.
"Many francophones are still stuck in the 1950s, in a way," he said in an interview. "Quebec francophones still have difficulty understanding and sympathizing with some of the English community’s problems, I guess because of our history and because the vast majority of francophones still do not have much contact with anglophones."
He noted that francophones used to criticize anglophones for living in English "ghettos" in western Montreal. But as more and more young anglos are bilingual and have moved into trendy francophone neighbourhoods, he hears complaints that English is spoken on the streets. "Now that anglophones are spreading out because they speak French and can function in French, it creates a malaise, because it’s like, ’What are you doing here in our part of the city ?’ I find that pretty strange."
The 2006 census showed a slight increase in the number of Quebec anglophones — those who have English as a mother tongue — for the first time since 1976. The population stands at 607,000, or 8% of Quebecers. Jack Jedwab, director of the Association of Canadian Studies, attributed the bump to a period of relative calm on the political front, but said the increase is largely symbolic.
The census numbers should not divert attention from the problems the English community is facing. Mr. Bourhis said the anglophone community has been under-researched because it is taken for granted by Quebecers. "They’re losing a lot of their youth, many of whom are bilingual and have good degrees but have difficulty finding jobs in Quebec.… We’re losing the middle class. Those who stayed, in the regions and in some of the working-class areas, are really in trouble."