Notes for a speech before the Newcomers’ Forum in Québec City
Québec city, Quebec, September 22, 2014
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning to all,
Thank you for inviting me today.
Every time I come back to Québec City, it gives me an opportunity to renew acquaintances and friendships, some of which date back to the 1970s and 1980s when my family and I spent a decade in Quebec—first in Montréal and then here, in Québec City. We have made great memories here. This is where my sons learned to speak French. The community helped me integrate, made me feel welcome.
Many newcomers face significant hurdles when they arrive in their new communities. For example, a newcomer to Québec City may already speak both official languages, but that doesn't mean each member of the family does.
For Anglophones, integrating in a predominantly Francophone environment comes with a steep learning curve. Newcomers from other countries or provinces, who do not always understand the complexities of Quebec's linguistic reality, turn to community organizations for help in joining Quebec society.
Quebec's English-speaking communities are a unique linguistic and cultural asset, and have contributed greatly to shaping modern Quebec. Increasingly bilingual, these communities make a positive contribution that deserves to be recognized. Too often, any gains made by these English-speaking communities are still seen as losses for the French language.
The current public perception of the language situation is marked by a paradox. On the one hand, recent statistics have shown growth in the number of Francophones in Quebec, slight growth in the English-speaking community in Quebec, and growth in the French-speaking minority communities across Canada. This is good news for both language minorities, and for Quebec's majority. On the other hand, there are persistent narratives of decline. This is understandable given the constant expansion of English as the language of business, international trade, scientific research and communication, and entertainment. The phenomenon represents significant challenges for policy makers all over the world. However, Quebec's English-speaking minority is not the source of those challenges; in fact, it is a huge economic asset. Let me explain.
Canadian society has a lot to gain—socially, culturally and economically—from advancing the development of its official language communities and promoting their presence, their language and their heritage. Québec City is a plaque tournante du savoir in Canada. For newcomers, there is nothing more exciting than the opportunity to live in a city where they can thrive in both official languages. And for businesses, there is nothing more promising than being able to count on a bilingual workforce to expand and solidify commercial branding.
Newcomers have always played an important role in the development of official language communities, and the importance of that role continues to grow. Here in Québec City, every five years 25% of the region's Anglophone population is renewed through newcomersFootnote 1. The constant flow of Anglophone newcomers to Québec City can present certain challenges, but the province and Québec City need to tackle these challenges and welcome newcomers—to everyone's benefit.
More and more Canadian employers are looking for applicants who have attained a given level of proficiency in both official languages, whatever their first language may be. Bilingualism is also a definite asset for Quebec businesses. The results of a survey conducted in 2007 for Québec multilingue, a Québec City Chamber of Commerce committee, showed that 40% of Québec City's businesses employ people who need to master a second language for work—English, in the vast majority of casesFootnote 2.
A few years ago, to develop the English capacity of their sector, insurance companies in the region created the not-for-profit Centre de développement en assurances et services financiers, with great success.
Last June, in Charlottetown, Mayor Labeaume confirmed that the lack of bilingualism in Québec City was causing headaches for employers. According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Québec City Chamber of Commerce, 18% of employers say a lack of bilingualism is the biggest problem they face when it comes to the city's workforce.
The need for bilingual employees in the region will continue to grow, and English capacity must be developed collectively. To achieve this, we need the support of Québec City's existing Anglophone community, which can help English speaking newcomers learn French, integrate and actively contribute to Quebec society. We also need the support of businesses, which turn to community organizations for help in creating a bilingual workforce in a predominantly French speaking region.
However, these organizations need adequate funding to be able to function properly.
Thanks to Voice of English-speaking Québec, or VEQ, Anglophones arriving in Québec City can enjoy a softer landing. VEQ's approach is specific to Québec City, and it recognizes the needs of both businesses and newcomers. VEQ has developed resources to help make the transition easier for newcomers, introducing them to a vibrant and welcoming English community while also preparing them for integration into the Francophone environment. It is a win-win partnership for all. I would like to congratulate the community and the city on this excellent tool for community renewal.
The region would certainly benefit from more support to existing community organizations, as well as funding for new organizations that contribute to its economic prosperity.
This is why it is so important that English-speaking community organizations obtain the resources they need to continue their excellent work helping newcomers integrate and realize their full potential in Quebec. Not funding organizations that welcome English speaking newcomers to the Québec City area is difficult to understand, since facilitating newcomer integration makes great economic sense. Everybody wins by leveraging the potential of their arrival.
Supporting the economic development of Québec City's Anglophone community is essential for Québec City's long-term vitality. Its economic and cultural heart is very cosmopolitan, and thrives with the presence of a strong Anglophone community. The ability to count on a bilingual workforce makes it a city open to national and international business, and a cultural capital that attracts students and tourists from across Canada and around the world.
A thriving English-speaking community benefits not only Quebec, but also Canada as a whole. It has been long established that Quebec's English-speaking community is not a threat to the French language. Furthermore, the vast majority of Quebecers agrees that speaking both official languages is highly beneficial from a personal and professional standpoint.
Both language communities have a lot to gain from each other. My office is always on board to help facilitate these conversations, and I am sure we can count on the collaboration of Québec City and the Ministère de l'Immigration, de la Diversité et de l'Inclusion. The vitality of Quebec's English-speaking communities depends on the municipal, provincial and federal governments' support.
On the federal front, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has recently funded studies on the ability of Quebec's English-speaking communities to attract newcomers. Even though the Roadmap for Canada's Official Languages 2013-2018 does not include any initiatives to promote Anglophone community renewal, it would be beneficial for the Department to examine how it can help Quebec's Anglophone communities access the resources they need to help newcomers integrate into Quebec society.
Promoting the economic development of our official language communities encourages entrepreneurs and employers to create businesses that have a positive effect on the strength of these communities. Opportunities in sectors as diverse as arts and culture, education and tourism encourage young people to stay, students to register at the region's establishments, workers to migrate and newcomers to settle.
And of course, successful projects and business models in an English-speaking community can have spin-off effects that reverberate at the provincial and national level.
Everybody wins by embracing both languages and both cultures, and community organizations like VEQ make handling the adaptation curve much easier. There is a lot to gain from English-speaking newcomers settling in, learning French and becoming a permanent part of the Québec City community.
English-speaking community organizations must be able to continue to make every newcomer feel at home, so they can hit the ground running when they arrive in Québec City.
It is my hope that what I have shared today can shed some light on the challenges organizations face, the opportunities to be seized, and the much needed newcomers these organizations are doing their best to welcome.
- Footnote 1
Jan Warnke, Caractéristiques démographiques et sociales de la population anglophone de la Région sociosanitaire de la Capitale-Nationale, March 2006.
- Footnote 2
Écho Sondage, La langue seconde dans les entreprises de la MRC de Portneuf et de la ville de Québec, study carried out for the Québec multilingue committee, Québec City, 2007, p. 15.