HENRY AUBIN - Everyone knows that a serious brain drain is weakening Quebec’s anglophone community. But a sobering new study shows that this exodus is more serious than widely understood.
Among adults born in Quebec whose mother tongue is English, an astonishing 61 per cent of those whose top university degree was a bachelor’s had moved to other parts of Canada as of 2001, the latest census year for which this mobility data are available. (See table.)
Among those with a master’s degree, 66 per cent had left, according to this study by William Floch, a federal civil servant specializing in the official languages, and Joanne Pocock, a PhD candidate in sociology at Carleton University. And, finally, among those in the small, elite category of holders of PhDs, a staggering 73 per cent had departed.
The category most likely to remain in Quebec ? High-school dropouts. Only 40 per cent went.
As a rule of thumb, then, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to leave.
Please note that these are not foreign students who study at Montreal universities at considerable expense to provincial taxpayers before returning home - that is, the sort of students whom Quebec nationalists regularly complain about (particularly in the context of McGill’s faculty of medicine). No, these are Quebecers, born and bred.
Note, too, that the census can track only people who still reside in Canada. (If you move to another country, you don’t get a census form.) So, if anything, the study actually underestimates the outflow of talent. It doesn’t count all those Quebec-born doctors, nurses, scientists, musicians, computer whizzes and others who are now making careers in the U.S. or elsewhere.
It goes without saying that this exodus has a huge impact on Quebec’s economy (more specifically in the Montreal metropolitan region, where most of these émigrés would be working if they’d stayed). It also has a commensurate effect on the tax base.
What might be less understood is the trend’s effect on civic leadership in the English-speaking community. As the study’s co-author, Pocock, told me yesterday, the outflow helps explain an erosion in the institutional base. Well-educated people who give their time to, say, their local school board, city council, hospital board or volunteer group are becoming less numerous. Her observation recalls something former MNA Reed Scowen wrote in 2007 edition of his book Time to Say Goodbye : "It is impossible to identify a leader of the English community today."
(It’s worth pointing out, however, that the Quebec Community Groups Network has started trying to fill this void. Indeed, it was at its conference on the English community last week that this study was released.)
The Quebec anglos who are leaving are predominantly bilingual and have educational credentials that shine. The province is scrambling to replace them with immigrants, but the latter often lack the same skills in French and diplomas of equal weight.
Anglos leave for many reasons. Better career opportunities is one. High taxes here are another. As well, sovereignist politicians keep alive the largely obsolete but ever-useful image of the haughty anglo. As La Presse’s Lysiane Gagnon noted this week, "anti-English rhetoric is still politically correct." The Quebec civil service remains a shocking symbol of an unaccommodating majority culture. Although 8.2 per cent of Quebecers have English as their mother tongue, they have only 0.7 per cent of government jobs.
Pocock expects that the 2006 census’s mobility data, to be published in a few months, will show a slight improvement in Quebec’s record of retaining well-educated anglos in the 2002-2006 period. This good news would reflect to some degree the election of a federalist Quebec government in 2003.
But how about 2007 and 2008 ? These are the years of the Parti Québécois’s launch of Nous-ism. Overt ethnic nationalism is becoming respectable after long hibernation. The timing is bad. Demographers predict Quebec is only several years from a broad manpower shortage - what we’re already seeing among doctors and nurses could become generalized.
The anglo brain drain
Among Quebecers whose mother tongue is English, it is the most educated who are the most likely to move to other provinces, according to the 2001 census. Total No High- Bachelor’s or population high-school school first professional Master’s age 15+ diploma diploma degree degree Ph D.
Anglos born in Quebec
and still live in Quebec 305,513 86,232 49,663 36,270 8,388 1,170
Anglos born in Quebec now
living in another province 303,882 56,442 35,234 56,830 16,401 3,173
source : "emerging trends in the socio-economic status of english speaking quebec : those who left and those who stayed," by William Floch and Joanne Pocock, published by the centre d’Études ethniques des universitÉs montrÉalaises and the Canadian institute for research on linguistic minorities