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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
8 Apr 2023

NextImg:French Outside Quebec 'Remains Fragile' Despite Billions in Grants Invested: Federal Report

French outside Quebec “remains fragile” despite billions in grants invested to promote the language since 2003, according to a report by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Published last November, the report says the feasibility of establishing thriving Francophone communities outside of Quebec—defined as Francophone official language minority communities (OLMCs)—remains challenging even though funding to launch programs that encourage the use of French has been provided.

“[T]he viability of Francophone OLMCs remains fragile,” said the report, titled “Evaluation of the Official Languages Support Programs 2003–04 to 2020–21,” as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter.

“Since 2006, the demographic weight of Francophone OLMCs has decreased while that of Anglophone OLMCs has increased slightly.”

Updated on March 27, the report said the rate of bilingualism outside Quebec decreased slightly, despite an increase in the number of students enrolled in second-language learning programs during the period between 2006 and 2021.

According to the “Action Plan for Official Languages” by the federal government in 2018, about $1.9 billion was budgeted to promote French and English in all regions across the country from 2003 to 2008. The budget was subsequently raised to $2.2 billion for each of the two periods in 2008–13 and 2013–18, respectively, before another $500 million was added for 2018–23, bringing the total federal investment for that period to $2.7 billion.

The evaluation report said the actual expenditure, in grants and contributions, from 2003 to 2021 totalled $5.8 billion.

However, it noted that the proportion of individuals with French as their first official language outside Quebec fell from 4.2 percent to 3.5 percent between 2006 and 2021. The rate of bilingualism outside the province also dropped from 10.2 to 9.5 percent over the same period.

Reasons for declining bilingualism included “the feeling of language insecurity” and the “fear of being criticized,” the report said.

“For example, many Francophiles are not comfortable conversing in French, believing that their speaking skills are inadequate.”

The department added that the main challenge for Francophone OMLCs is “to be able to transmit their language, live in French, and maintain their demographic weight.”

Factors such as aging population, immigration, and the “exodus of young people from OLMCs,” among other challenges, come into play too.

On March 1, 2022, the federal government introduced Bill C-13, An Act to Amend the Official Languages Act, to mandate the use of French in federally regulated private businesses in Quebec, and then, “at a later date, in regions with a strong francophone presence” though the term was not defined.

Based on data from the 2021 Canadian census, the province that has the highest proportion of residents speaking only French after Quebec (82.2 percent), is New Brunswick (30 percent), as reported by Statistics Canada last August.

Appearing before the Commons languages committee on Oct. 6, 2022, Raymond Théberge, commissioner of Official Languages, testified that there was no guarantee Bill C-13 would halt the decline in French in the short term.

He was asked by Conservative MP Joël Godin whether the rollout of Bill C-13 will “put an immediate stop” to the decline of French in Quebec and across Canada.

“I think the decline will continue if we do nothing. In its proposed or amended form, the bill will definitely help slow or reverse the decline of French in Canada,” Théberge replied.

“What are the necessary tools that you believe we should incorporate into Bill C‑13 in order to stop the decline of French in Canada starting the day after the new act comes into force?” Godin asked.

“That is a big challenge. A language policy consists of more than a bill, but a lot of things could be done,” Théberge said.