Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bilingual Montreal - Montréal Bilingue

Montreal is the most bilingual city in North America... OK, I didn't actually look that up but it's probably true. The statistics are pretty impressive. Over half of the population can have a conversation in French or English and quite often a third language as well. In fact, Quebec is the most bilingual province of Canada with 42% of the population comfortable in two or more languages. Visitors to Montreal are often amazed at how people seem to be able to switch from one language to another or have conversations where one person is speaking French and the other is speaking English. Bilingualism is great! Everyone loves it! OK, maybe not Howard Galganov... but everyone else agrees that bilingualism is great so we can all hold hands on this issue and walk into the sunset together, right? Not quite. You see, there is a difference of opinion as to what exactly is keeping the precarious balancing act between French and English going and what is threatening it. Some say that the threat comes from francophone language zealots who want to eradicate all English from Quebec. In fact, you'll often hear that Quebec's language laws (Bill 101) are unnecessary now since so many Montrealers are bilingual. They feel that Montreal should be officially recognized as a bilingual city and that English should be recognized as an official language.

But what exactly made Montreal so bilingual and what effect did Bill 101 really have on the city and its inhabitants?

Montreal before Bill 101

Ste-Catherine Street in the 1960's

Before bill 101 there was no bilingual Montreal. It was as Jane Jacobs and many others observed: “An English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants”. 

Before bill 101 there was virtually no French in the workplace, there was no French in the boardrooms and there was little or no French in the shops downtown. Before Bill 101 the Canadian National Railway and the big banks could have their headquarters in Montreal and not have to hire a single French-speaking person above the second floor.

Before Bill 101, the median income of English-speaking households was between 20 and 30 per cent above the provincial average. That's changed today, wealth is spread more evenly among all established cultural groups. Head offices still operate mostly in English, of course, but as often as not, it's a francophone speaking English in the corner office. 

Before Bill 101, the rich and powerful English-speaking minority was the dominant group; bilingualism was a one-sided burden for Francophones who needed to understand what their bosses were saying, and immigrants were assimilating massively into English. Imposing French as the common public language has eliminated the old linguistic and cultural ghettos in Montreal.

Before Bill 101, 90% of all immigrants' children registered into an English-language school board. Now, 90% study in French. They have become a new breed: the children of Bill 101 - a multi-ethnic, French-speaking melting pot. That's the most striking consequence of the law, and the new cultural mix that has resulted is often considered its greatest achievement. 

And finally, Bill 101 has spawned another new breed, very rare elsewhere: the bilingual Anglo. Sixty-six per cent of those who stayed in Quebec after the election of the PQ in 1976, or have migrated there since, can speak French. More than half of all those whose mother tongue was neither French nor English can now converse in these two languages; 73 % are able to sustain a conversation in French.

Conclusion: Bill 101 made Bilingual Montreal

Bill 101 greatly increased bilingualism in Montreal. Not only did it increase bilingualism but it helped put an end to the old social inequalities between francophones and anglophones that had existed in Quebec since the conquest. Let's face it, English and French are not equals in the North American context. By protecting and promoting French, Bill 101 levels the playing field and makes a truly bilingual city possible. Pretending that this is killing bilingualism is simply denying reality. There was a lot of hysteria and gnashing of teeth by anglophones when Bill 101 was introduced in 1977 but many have come to realize that, in the end, it was a good thing. Bill 101 offers real solutions to realities on the ground which puts it in stark contrast to the Trudeauist, Canadian approach to bilingualism which has utterly failed. 

Trudeau's Political bilingualism 

Must kill French!
As noted in the 1960's by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, a country is bilingual not because its inhabitants speak both languages, but because different languages ​​are spoken in different regions of the country. That's how Switzerland and Belgium understand their linguistic diversity. Without completely embracing this territorial model, the two commissioners, Laurendeau and Dunton, made it a cornerstone of the reforms they proposed. The important thing was to consider the status and strength of English and French on a territorial basis while taking into account the minority population. In this model, there is no need for everyone to be bilingual. Rather, it is to ensure the sustainability of languages ​​on a regional basis.

This concept of bilingualism did not go over well with Trudeau. He had made hostility to Quebec nationalism his trademark. Bilingualism for Trudeau was to be used as way for him to counter the claims of Quebec nationalists. The territorial approach to bilingualism would implicitly recognize the existence of two nations within Canada. So Trudeau decided to make language entirely a matter of individual choice. Canadians should be able to live in the language of their choice from coast to coast (wherever numbers warrant).

This vision had the advantage of denying any kind of special status for Quebec. Having French too linked to Quebec might encourage independence. It was therefore important to establish this model of bilingualism across the country and to ensure that all provinces are equal. It was hoped that in the end, francophones would cease to feel an attachment to Quebec because they could choose to live in French in Calgary just as well as in Saguenay.

To ensure that this feat of social engineering would succeed, it was essential to make services bilingual, both at federal and provincial levels, hence the importance of enshrining in the Constitution the so-called human right to attend public school in English or French even if education is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Trudeau also wanted millions of Canadians proficient in both languages. It simply required that they make the effort and that the federal government spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

Linguistic failure but political success

This project failed for obvious reasons. First, there is no practical use for almost everyone to speak two languages. It's just easier and more convenient to operate in a single language. One may even wonder to what extent it is the responsibility of the state to spend huge sums of money to bilingualize its population. Furthermore, francophones are a tiny minority in most of English Canada. This reality means that anglophones have neither the need nor the opportunity to speak French. Learning a language that you will never use is basically a waste of time for most people.

Even in Ottawa, Trudeau's bilingualism project is not working. Even though there are far more francophones working in government than ever before, they mainly use English at work. To overcome this situation, the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission had proposed the establishment of unilingual administrative units. Like army regiments, some divisions of the public service would work in English and others in French. But this approach was the antithesis of the bilingual civilization Trudeau had imagined. He quickly put aside this proposal.

In the face of such a failure, why is this policy never questioned? Well, almost never... The answer lies in its political usefulness. It denies Quebec's distinctiveness. In this model, Quebec is just a province. A bilingual province in a bilingual country like all the other provinces. This is the vision of Canada that inspired the 1982 constitution and it's the vision that caused the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The premise underlying Canada's approach to bilingualism is based on political considerations to the detriment of the historical and sociological realities. 

In fact it's worse than that. Trudeau's Constitution and Charter are based on the historical fraud and conceit that the situation of French Canadians outside Quebec – underprivileged in education and income, suffering rampant language attrition, lacking public institutions which function in their language and thus the means to maintain their culture, etc – is somehow “analogous” to the situation of English Canadians in Quebec, where none of these historical indices of oppression were present. The rights of French Canadians to their language was supposed to be protected under the preceding constitution, the BNA, so Trudeau’s “innovation” in this area wasn't as novel as advertised, and came about a century too late, decades after the horse of cultural genocide directed at French Canadians had left the barn and run its mission.

Language policy in Canada has always been a contentious matter; there are no simple solutions. However, in a truly honest approach to bilingualism, Ottawa would conduct a dispassionate discourse on language that admits the demographic realities and the genuine threats to the survival of French. Such a discourse would require that Ottawa acknowledge that as a first language, French is on the ropes outside Quebec and – most importantly – in the Montreal metropolitan area, and cease pretending that the situation of English-speaking Quebec is comparable to that of the French-speaking minorities in the rest of Canada. More specifically, it would require that Ottawa legitimize and promote application of the “territorial principle” within Quebec, and actively support the francization of allophones in the key Montreal area.

Such an unpoliticized and practical approach to bilingualism from the federal government does not seem likely. Ottawa continues, for example, to subsidize English-language pressure group like Alliance Quebec or its successor the QCGN on the grounds that they are formally equivalent to organizations representing francophone minorities elsewhere. Thereby, Ottawa in effect finances a Trojan horse. The goal of these groups is straightforward enough: wall-to-wall application of the “personality principle”. From this point of view, the Quebec government should treat English and French identically; it should not “discriminate” on behalf of either. Such a policy condemns Quebec francophones to a demographic fate similar to that which has befallen francophones elsewhere.

Many Quebecers have come to the conclusion that the current Canadian language regime is inherently assimilationist. In fact, if it were to endure in its present form, Ottawa’s language policy could well turn out, in the long run, to be no more than a subtle manner of securing the slow but sure anglicization of French Canada so firmly recommended by Lord Durham.

The perverse effect

The federal government, since Trudeau, has convinced Canadians that its expensive and largely useless approach to bilingualism is what Quebecers want. In reality, it isn't what we want and never has been. But poor old Billy, who works for Canada post in Saskatoon and had to learn French in order to be ready if one day a francophone wants to buy stamps in French, believes that he did this to please Quebecers. He doesn't understand why we aren't grateful. He also finds it hypocritical that Quebec insists on Canada being bilingual but at the same time only promotes French in Quebec. When the National Post rails against Quebec for whatever reason, Billy tends to nod his head in agreement because he's had enough of those darn Quebecers!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Quebec's approach to language has produced a more bilingual society. The rates of bilingualism in Quebec have increased since Bill 101 and continue to increase whereas they have stagnated and declined in the rest of Canada. English dominates this continent and Bill 101 does nothing to reduce its importance. It's only by making French present and necessary in people's lives that we get a bilingual population. Institutionalized bilingualism for Quebec in general and Montreal specifically, would simply make French optional and for a minority society like ours that accepts a lot of immigrants, that means making French basically irrelevant. Learning two languages is difficult and few people will do it just for fun. They do it because it's necessary.

I can understand why someone like Howard Galganov hates Bill 101. He's not interested in French or bilingualism. He believes that it is his right as a Canadian to never have to speak any other language than English anywhere in Canada. But for someone who ostensibly advocates bilingualism to portray Bill 101 and Quebec's approach to language as the enemy of bilingualism is a sign of either being utterly clueless on the matter or intentionally deceitful. Quebecers routinely get lectured about the benefits of bilingualism by people like this as if we were the ones holding it back... It's a bit like if whites in the US were to lecture blacks about the value of racial equality while depicting Affirmative Action as an unacceptable form of discrimination against white people...


  1. Bill 101 was never and is not pro bilingual or pro french but is without a doubt anti english period!!!! Bill 101 was never needed in our society and has done far more harm to quebec society than good. It is responsible for quebec's financial failure, the exodus of thousands of people and business and the horrid shape this province is presently in today. Bill 101 needed, I think NOT!!!!

    1. Norma: in my opinion, francophone students everywhere in Quebec, starting from grade 5 or 6, should be required to take at least one-third of their academic courses in English and/or about learning English as a Second Language. However, one-third ESL immersion should be the minimum, one-half should be the maximum, to ensure that they still learn French properly.

      As well, if the traditional anglophone community in Quebec could be brought on board, anglophone students should have a mandatory, "mirror-image" French immersion program, with at least half the course in (or about) French language, but again, no more than half, depending on the school district.

  2. "Before Bill 101, 90% of all immigrants' children registered into an English-language school board."

    Ha! Talk to some of those immigrants who were around before Bill 101. It's not simply that they were
    "choosing" English schools for their kids, it's that the Catholic School Board (that controlled most French schools) wouldn't let them in so they had to go to the Protestant School Board which was made up of predominantly English schools.

    1. I should clarify what I said earlier: what I meant was, all francophone students in Quebec Province (starting in grade 5 or 6), should have to take an English Second Language (ESL) program that would be about one-third to one-half of the total academic load, until graduation from secondary school in Grade 12, However, to ensure that they learn French properly, the ESL course load should not be more than 50% of their total classes.

      Then, if the anglophone community were willing to do something similar, there could be a "mirror image" programme for Anglo students in which, starting in Grades 5 or 6, they would be required to take at least one-third of their courses in a French immersion programme until they graduated from high school, but the French courses would not exceed 50 percent of their classes. Thus, they would develop a reasonable command of French, just as their francophone counterparts would become fairly proficient in English.

    2. Traditionally, French schools in Quebec were really Catholic schools. The criteria for admission was being Catholic. Schools in Quebec were secularized in 1964. Italian immigrants were never excluded from French Catholic schools yet the vast majority sent their kids to English schools. In a sense, it's understandable, who would want to join the ranks of a poor, exploited minority? English was the language of money and power. It was the language that dominated the continent including Quebec. Saying that immigrants were cast out of the French school system is absurd Angryphone bullshit. There was no rush of immigrant signing up for French schools in 1964. French in North America is a minority language surrounded by English. This is the reason why many immigrants to Quebec become anglophones (it's not because Quebecers are "xenophobes") and it is the reason why Quebec has language laws. But Canadians always need to deny our reality and rewrite our history...

    3. You are denying reality and rewriting history. Read my comment below and send an informed response.

  3. Bill 101 is an orifice plate on the Montral economy. The province is tracking for bankruptcy because of language idiocy. Like the church before it, the clowns running the province will rack up half a trillion in debt holding back the English tide and coddling Catholics. This article is pretty to look at, but flawed in content. You can't override the constitution/ethnically cleanse your way to prosperity.

    1. What you're saying, Robert, is just your run-of-the-mill Angryphone bullshit. It is completely baseless but the majority of Anglos in Quebec and in Canada believe it like religious dogma. As Jane Jacobs or Marc Levine show in detail the decline of Montreal as the economic center of Canada was well under way when English was the only language of business. Toronto had already caught up with Montreal by the 1940’s, a good quarter of a century before the Parti québécois came to power. It had nothing to do with Quebec nationalism of language laws.

      In fact, had far more to do with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which considerably reduced traffic in the port of Montreal and other federal policies like the national energy policy which killed the petrochemical industry in east-end Montreal; the Canada-USA auto pact, which led to the consolidation of the auto industry in the Toronto region; the Federal government's research and development policies on science and technology, which have always favoured Ontario over Quebec; and its goods and services purchasing policy, which has always been unequal. In addition, the federal government promoted the development of the industrial area located in Kanata, Ontario. Federal government and Crown Corporation public investments have also worked to Quebec's detriment, i.e. between 1981 and 1996, Quebec received only 16.4% of government investment and 14.4% of Crown Corporation investment. Furthermore, the federal government also dragged its feet before imposing a twenty year protection on pharmaceutical patents. This delay allowed the generic drug industry in Ontario to develop and compete unfairly with the Quebec pharmaceutical industry. They also bowed to pressures exerted by powerful Toronto lobbies and prevented the creation of international banking centres in Vancouver and Montreal.

      Quebec's current economic difficulties have to do with sharing a currency with the Albertan petro-state and Dutch disease and absolutely nothing to do with language. The fact that you would compare having to make French more prominent on commercial signs with ethnic cleansing show how completely delusional you are.

  4. Trudeau was a great man. He could see that overridding charters is ill advised.

    1. Trudeau defender of people's rights? You mean the guy who proclaimed the War Measures Act in the middle of the night by fraudulently characterizing a couple of kidnappings as an insurrection. Under the War Measures the Constitution and all civil liberties were suspended. 12,500 troops were sent into Quebec. 500 men, women, and children were arrested without charges, detained incommunicado, without bail and without the right to communicate with a lawyer. Many of those arrested were poets, writers, artists, and grass-roots organizers, their crime was having political beliefs that Trudeau didn't like. Police forces entered and searched more than 10,000 homes without warrant. Two days after War Measures were proclaimed, one of the hostages was found dead, unsurprisingly.

      You're referring to the Trudeau who gave the RCMP carte blanche to commit a whole string of crimes in Quebec during the 1970's. Crimes that make the Watergate break-in look like a high-school prank. For example, Operation Ham in which the RCMP broke into the premises of Messageries dynamiques in order to steal the membership list of the Parti québécois.

      But that was nothing compared to some of the RCMP's other activities during that time. The RCMP in Quebec committed bomb attacks, arson, kidnappings, and dynamite thefts and issued fake FLQ communiqués in order to artificially maintain an atmosphere of fear and insecurity harmful to the independence movement. Trudeau had no respect for other people's rights.

  5. There is little doubt that Trudeau put the nation before individual civil rights. In the end, he was a patriot who was perhaps a little too agressive in his attempts to suppress the seditious and immoral actions of a few murderous sociopaths.