Quebec charged with hiding stats about decline of French in Montreal
January 24, 2008
MONTREAL – The mug's game of judging language trends in Montreal became even dicier Thursday as the Quebec government was hit with accusations it purposely shelved a report suggesting French-speakers will soon be a minority in the city.
A researcher at the Universite de Montreal says he submitted a report to the government in August 2006 that said French-speakers would be a minority in Montreal by 2021.
The numbers themselves reflect demographic trends highlighted in recent census figures released by Statistics Canada.
But researcher Marc Termote told a Montreal newspaper that the government has put off publishing his report because of its politically-charged conclusions.
“I have a lot of respect for him, he's a great researcher,” said Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre by way of a denial. “But Mr. Termote should stick to research.”
Termote could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Quebec nationalists have long seen Montreal as an anglophone redoubt that has managed to resist the full force of the province's French-language charter.
The Liberal government, however, has repeatedly ignored their calls to beef up language laws.
The nationalists feel their cause was given a boost recently when a report by the tabloid Journal de Montreal claimed an undercover journalist found 15 jobs in the city's service industry despite telling employers she couldn't speak French.
Columnists in a rival newspaper countered by pointing to a study by Quebec's language watchdog that showed of 2,500 Montreal businesses surveyed, 90 per cent offered service entirely in French.
Termote's comments only poured fuel on a simmering debate that has thinly-disguised political elements.
“After two years of hiding, we have the right to demand the immediate publication of studies that could help determine measures that the government should put in place very quickly,” said Daniel Turp, the Parti Quebecois' democratic institutions critic.
Opposition Leader Mario Dumont used one of Termote's stated causes behind the decline in French-speakers – more immigrants – to call for the government to revise its immigration targets.
“They were adopted in a context where extremely important facts and studies at the heart of the issues were hidden,” he told reporters in Quebec City. “Not only were they hidden from the population, they were hidden from parliamentarians.”
Yet Dumont's call for limits on immigration ignore other census numbers that suggest newcomers to Quebec now usually opt to learn French.
Indeed, Montrealers themselves appear to be split about whether much has changed over the years.
“Nothing has changed,” said Michele Tourenne as she crossed Montreal's St-Laurent Street, the traditional divide between the city's two solitudes. “I've grown used to speaking both languages.”
Others, however, agreed that French appears to be losing ground.
“French has been on the decline, more or less,” said Maxime Lavoie. “We're using more and more English at work.”
St-Pierre promised on Thursday that Termote's report would be published in March, along with a more inclusive study of language trends in the province.
“I'm in favour of transparency and Mr. Termote's studies prepare us for this overall picture,” she said.