Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Anglo-Quebecer's take on the language debate

The anglophone community has deep roots in Quebec, I however do not.  

I moved to Quebec back in October of 2011, so that's less than two years that I have been residing here in the provincial capital of Quebec City.  When it comes to opinions on Quebec's never ending language debate the views of anglophones are as varied as the community itself.

This is mine.

A bit on my frame of reference.  Prior to moving here I had already attained a fair degree of fluency in the French language.  I studied French throughout high school and into university, and I spent six weeks the summer I turned eighteen on New Brunswick's Acadian Penninsula taking a French Immersion course.

My facility in the language was  sufficient enough for me to find employment in customer service, sales and account management positions in the Toronto area.   I never, and still have not, attained what I consider perfect fluency, but I do consider myself more than functionally bilingual.

Suffice to say I place a high degree of value on bilingualism and have more than a bit of sympathy for those who strive to protect and promote the French language in Quebec.   I embraced the opportunity to move here, and I love living in Quebec.

The two issues dominating discussion of late are limiting access to English schools for Quebec students and the  removal of bilingual status from some municipalities.

It goes without saying that Quebec is a French island surrounded by an ocean of the English language.  If the French language is to survive and thrive in this environment, then barriers need to be constructed to protect it from being flooded.  The damn protecting la langue française is already showing major cracks on the island of Montreal.  A French speaking Quebecer can go into a west island convenience store and find they have to speak English at the counter.

The debate comes down to individual rights versus that of a society as a whole.

Quebecers have elected a government which places a high priority on protecting and promoting the use of French and is proposing legislation which reflects the direction in which they wish to take the society.

In terms of education, those parents whose kids are denied access to an English public school can still enroll their children in a private school that is English.  Some consider that unfair, and argue that they're being denied a fundamental right.  But does the overall society not have a fundamental right to defend itself from being assimilated?

Its a difficult question for sure.  The same issues apply to municipal governments losing their bilingual status which would result in the loss of English language services.

Our federal government  protects the entertainment industry with content rules that prevent our marketplace from being overrun with programming and music from the United States on our public airwaves.  Quebec is acting in similar fashion, but here it goes beyond programming and extends further in an effort to protect the language.

If the French language is to survive here, I would argue that it is needed.

Now for those who might point to the tenuous minority status of Quebec's  PQ government and the mere thirtyish percent of the popular vote they garnered, I would suggest a closer look at the numbers.  In addition to the Parti Québecois there are two other nationalist parties here, and combined with the PQ they garnered in the neighborhood of forty percent of the vote.  No where close to a majority certainly, but still significant.

Given the minority situation Quebecers will likely have a chance to pass judgement on Mme Marois' governance and initiatives sooner rather than later, that's democracy.  At that point it will come down to a decision about which direction Quebecers want this province to take, and on how much of a priority protecting the French language represents.

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