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Official bilingualism in Canada a 'myth,' says new poll

People walk by bilingual signs for a commercial space for lease in the city of Westmount on the Island of Montreal, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.) People walk by bilingual signs for a commercial space for lease in the city of Westmount on the Island of Montreal, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.)
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A new poll reveals a stark divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada about whether the country should be bilingual.

In a Léger poll conducted for The Canadian Press, only 43 per cent of respondents across Canada said they held a positive view of federal bilingualism — which was enshrined into law in 1969, making English and French Canada's official languages.

Eighteen per cent of respondents held a negative view.

However, in Quebec, 70 per cent of respondents said they view bilingualism positively; 11 per cent held the opposite opinion.

Outside Quebec, the percentage of respondents who view official bilingualism positively was 35 per cent — and 23 per cent in Alberta, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan close behind.

Asked whether it's important for Canada to remain officially bilingual, 83 per cent of Quebecers said it was; nearly half that number — 43 per cent — in the rest of Canada agreed.

"It's the two solitudes expressed in a poll," said Sébastien Poitras, vice president of public affairs at Léger.  "This value put forward by the Canadian government, that we're a country with two official languages, and therefore have 'coast-to-coast' bilingualism, is a myth that doesn't hold true in the rest of Canada."

New Brunswick is Canada's only officially bilingual province; in Quebec, French is the only official language.

Sixty per cent of respondents in Quebec said provinces other than New Brunswick and their own should be bilingual, while 26 per cent said the same in the rest of Canada. 

Fifty-five per cent of respondents in Quebec said their province should have both French and English as official languages, compared to 22 per cent in the rest of the country.

However, 65 per cent of Canadians outside of Quebec said that provinces should be bilingual. 

"We've seen that, for the rest of Canada, people don't see Canada's official bilingualism as something positive," Poitras said.

In fact, 41 per cent of total respondents — 60 per cent in Quebec — said official bilingualism is at the heart of Canadian identity; 49 per cent in the rest of the country said it exists only to satisfy a minority. 

Federal bilingualism, Poitras said, leaves Canadians outside Quebec "indifferent at best. Then, when asked about the importance of Canada's official bilingualism, just over half of anglophones say it's not important."

In Quebec, 70 per cent of respondents said the survival of French was threatened in Canada, dropping to 19 per cent in the rest of the country.

When focusing on the survival of French in Quebec, 63 per cent of Quebecers said it was under threat compared to 11 per cent in the rest of Canada.

Thirty-eight per cent of Canadians outside of Quebec said English was under threat in Quebec compared to only 17 per cent of respondents in the province.

The Léger survey was conducted online with 1,536 respondents between June 14 and 17, 2024.

As the poll's sample was not probabilistic, the survey doesn't have a margin of error. Leger says a probabilistic poll with a similar sample size would have a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024. 

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