Experts say Quebec is under-counting English speakers; minister defends bill
MONTREAL -- Who counts as an English-speaker in Quebec? The answer is much more complicated than you might think—and some Quebecers think the province's math was off when revising its language laws.
According to the provincial government, an “anglophone” is someone whose mother tongue is English.
But that leaves out a lot of people whose primary language ultimately became English.
"I might not qualify, because my parents spoke Yiddish to me when I was a kid,” said Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association for Canadian Studies.
Jedwab says the federal government uses a broader definition that includes people who speak English as a second language, but who consider themselves part of the English-speaking community and who, more importantly, “desire English speaking service.”
The difference, in concrete terms, adds up to about a quarter of a million people.
The federal government found in 2016, using its own definition, that 12 per cent of the Quebec population (which was 8,066,555 at the time) learned English as their first official language.
The CAQ government said this year they count the English-speaking population as 8.7 per cent of Quebec.
It used that number to set enrollment quotas for English CEGEPs in the Bill 96 draft, which the CEGEPS say will cause a lot of hardship for English-speaking students and send many outside Quebec.
“There are all sorts of measures to box in the English-speaking community, to limit it, to constrain it,” said Lawyer Eric Maldoff.
With the bigger-picture threats to French going nowhere, he asked, what is the longer-term plan? By using the notwithstanding clause, the province has protected the bill from constitutional legal challenges.
“Does that mean because the French language faces challenges, rights and freedoms should be suspended in perpetuity?” he said.
In an interview with CTV News on Friday, the day after the bill was tabled, Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the use of the notwithstanding clause was necessary, because “French is really important for Quebec.”
He said the bill is a “balanced” one that protects true English-speakers’ rights, even if it creates some new hurdles for francophones or allophones trying, for example, to shop around for CEGEP spots in English.
It’s not meant “to oppose French and English, or English against French, and that's why in the bill it's the status quo for the English community,” said Jolin-Barrette, who is responsible for the French language.
“And, more [than that], we give more rights also, like for the member of the English community to go to CEGEP,” he said.
“It's really important to remember, to the members of the English community, that all are their rights will be respected, like it was before, and nothing is changing with the bill.”
Watch Simon Jolin-Barrette's interview with Maya Johnson in the video above.