Benoit Dubreuil was appointed Quebec’s first Commissioner of the French Language on March 1.

He's got a seven-year mandate and quite the lofty challenge protecting French in a Quebec that's rapidly changing thanks to immigration, and a population that often wants to learn English.

His role is to find the right balance on a subject that has stumped Quebec governments for decades.

Benoit Dubreuil spoke to CJAD 800 radio host Elias Makos.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview here.

MAKOS: How French does Quebec need to be?

DUBREUIL: That's a very good question. I don't think I've been asked this question before. You know, the situation of language in Quebec is complex. It is evolving, also, as society is evolving.

You've mentioned immigration, maybe we can also mentioned digital transformation. So there are changes in people's language repertoire. And I think at the end of the day, there is no single answer. It needs to be a democratic debate, right, depending how we adjust our behaviour to the world in which we live. And there is no single answer to this.

People can have different views, different perspectives. And I really think it is up to politicians at the end of the day to have these debates in the national assembly. But what I like is to have debates that are based on facts, and that we don't [act] as if policies are effective when they are not. And that's really where I see my added value in strengthening the factual basis on which politicians will have their debates.

MAKOS: So let's talk a little bit about facts here, right. So basically, all children of immigrants go to French school. There are a couple of tiny loopholes that are available, but all immigrants are French, all children of immigrants go to French school. Eight-five per cent of anglos in the English system are sending their children to an immersion program, or a bilingual program. Many anglos send their children into the French system. So we're keeping in mind all of those things. Why is there such a worry that French could disappear or will go away in Quebec, when everyone seems to be on board with at least learning in French?

DUBREUIL: I think what you say is important in that we have made tremendous progress since the past few decades. So it's true now that we have reached levels of knowledge on immigrants and children of immigrants that we did not have before.

If we look at the situation right now, it is also true that the immigrant population is growing very fast, especially this year, and especially if we consider non-permanent residents. When you look at immigrants right now, I think we have approximately 60 per cent who use primarily French at work, primarily French in their daily life. And in addition to that, you have another maybe 20 per cent that will use French to varying degrees in their life and then maybe 20 per cent that do not know French, and that primarily work and live in English.

So it’s not bad. We're starting from a strong foundation. Same thing, also, you mentioned the situation among anglophones, where the level of bilingualism has been increasing very fast over the past few decades.

But it's still the case that among immigrants, where the population is growing very fast, French is still underrepresented by comparison to the overall population and English is still overrepresented. So what is the right balance at the end of the day? I don't have a magic number. Maybe if I can throw in a number. Let's say that if we had 85 per cent of immigrants who were opting for French since a few decades, I'm not sure we would have the discussion. I'm not even sure that my position would exist.

MAKOS: Maybe I think there's too much focus on the immigrants, not enough focus on the children of immigrants who are all going to French school… Kids -- they're all speaking French. So do you find sometimes immigration might be being used as a bogeyman, when at the end of the day the children are going into French schools?

DUBREUIL: I think the two are important because immigration is growing very fast. And we also know like, since the beginning of the year 2000, that children of immigrants who grow in families and communities where English is the vehicular language, even if they go to French school, they are very much attracted to English way more than people whose parents, for instance, use French as vehicular language at work and in public life.

But what you say is important, and definitely it is true that thanks to the application of the Charter of French Language, in primary school, in high school, definitely language is way more present.

What one of the things that I would like to look at is where we are exactly now with the use of language among children of immigrants. It has been studied, like from a qualitative perspective by many researchers, but I've not seen very good quantitative studies recently.

I know we had had a number of them in the early 2000s, but the world has changed dramatically, especially with the digital transformation of kids’ life, even among francophones, right. I know a lot of young francophones, children, even my children, they can spend hours every day watching, streaming English video on their iPhone. I mean, the world is changing very fast. And that relationship with people, with language, is also changing very fast. So those are the things that I will also be able to study. But you're right, I don't think we have a complete picture of what is going on among younger people. And that's what we need to look at.

MAKOS: Francophones in their 20s, all the francophones I know in their 20s, they want to speak English. They're upset, they didn't get enough English schooling growing up. So how do you deal with that factor? What happens to Quebec where francophones are all bilingual?

DUBREUIL: I think myself, as an example, I did learn English. I did learn English for all kinds of reasons: because I wanted to have access to specialized content when I was doing my PhD, because it was easier to travel. Those are the reasons why I learned English. But at the same time, I do not want the fact that I learned English to be used then to say, ‘Oh, now that you learn English, you're the person who was going to talk English every time that we need communication to happen,’ right? So I also worked several years in federal government, for instance, working with francophones and anglophones, and very often there is this assumption that as francophones are so good in English, then we are going to do everything in English. But I'm not okay with that, right? It's not for me to always make the efforts to work in the second language.

So that's the situation to all linguistic minorities are faced with, right? They do invest in learning a language that is more useful, more influential in some way. But at the same time, as they do this, they do not necessarily consent to use it all the time. And that's why we need some form of language planning, language policy that needs to be democratically decided and discussed.

MAKOS: You're on CJAD 800 right now, you clearly you're trying to touch base with anglophones by coming on this station. So what do you say to an anglophone community that feels like, ‘Hey, we've been in for a while. We are a part of Quebec.’ And that sometimes initiatives that come from the Quebec government, it feels to them that it's an attack on their community. What do you say to them?

DUBREUIL: Yeah, I mean, people don't need to agree on everything in a democracy, that's for sure. At the same time, and I think we need to recognize that things have dramatically evolved in the anglophone communities and efforts have been made and things have changed in the English-speaking community over time.

At the same time, I think the government of Quebec is also committed to do things in a way that will not will not create useless hurdles for anglophones in implementing the new the new Act. There is a commitment to respect the rights, to respect the situation and the specificity of the English-speaking community. And then it will be a matter of implementation, right? How do we do this? Are we effective in doing this? Can we achieve our objective in a way that does not create useless hurdles?

At the same time… language goes at the centre of people’s everyday life. So we cannot change linguistic trends at the aggregate level of a society without it to mean something specific in people's life, right. So there will be some adjustments. At the same time, will those adjustments take us where we want to go in a way that is efficient, that is fair -- or will it be just hurdles for people? That's what we will need to debate democratically.

The Elias Makos Show airs weekdays on CJAD 800 Radio from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.