Notes for an address at the Eastern Townships Newcomers Forum

Sherbrooke, Quebec July 14, 2015
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Good morning.

Thank you for inviting me today.

I always feel as if I am coming home when I return to the Eastern Townships. I have been coming here every summer for as long as I can remember.

My parents had a place in North Hatley where I spent a month every summer of my childhood. Since 1986, this same house has been my family’s retreat. Through our comings and goings, the birth of my children, and then of my grandchildren, my family and I have always felt at home in the Townships.

But it is not always that easy to feel at home when you arrive in a new city, a new province—and especially in a new country. It’s even more difficult when you don’t speak the language of the majority. But this is the reality of an English-speaking newcomer who must integrate into Quebec society, in a province where the majority speaks French.

For immigrants who speak English, integrating into the predominantly Francophone Quebec society comes with a steep learning curve. To seek help, they turn to English-speaking community organizations—like the Townshippers’ Association.

The support offered is vital—those organizations help them find a job, learn French and make direct contact with their welcoming community. This support is often the difference between integration that succeeds or fails and, unfortunately, failure to integrate can lead newcomers to leave their new community. Too many English-speaking Quebecers are leaving the province each year to settle elsewhere in Canada or abroad. One out of every eight of these outgoing Anglophones is an immigrant to Canada.Footnote 1 Their departure considerably weakens the English-speaking communities where they came from, as well as all of Quebec. This situation must not be ignored.

Unfortunately, the contributions of English-speaking Quebecers and English-speaking immigrants do not always receive the recognition they should in Quebec. We sometimes think, often wrongly, that any gains made by these English-speaking communities are losses for the French language. However, 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 rewarding from both a personal and a professional standpoint.

The public perception of the current language situation in Canada 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. On the other hand, there are nagging indications of a decline in the use of French. This is understandable given the steady increase in the use of English as the language of business, international trade, scientific research, communication and entertainment. But in the Quebec context, the English-speaking minority must not carry the blame for the predominance of English. Au contraire—the presence of Anglophones in Quebec is a huge economic asset. Let me explain.

Canada and Quebec society have a lot to gain—socially, culturally and economically—from advancing the development of their official language communities. For newcomers, there is nothing more exciting than the opportunity to live in a region where both official languages coexist. And for businesses, being able to draw on a bilingual work force is a great way to expand and solidify competitive position.

More and more, Canadian employers are looking for applicants who have attained a certain level of proficiency in both official languages, whatever their first language may be. Bilingualism is also a definite asset for Quebec businesses.

Last year, the mayor of Québec City confirmed that the lack of bilingualism was causing headaches for the city’s 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 with the city’s work force.

The need for bilingual employees will continue to grow, and this capacity must be developed collectively. We have to help English-speaking newcomers not only learn French, but also integrate and contribute actively to Quebec society. To achieve this, we need to support the existing English-speaking community. The local community represents value added as a welcoming community for English-speaking newcomers. In this regard, existing community organizations, like VEQ, Townshippers and YES, already do remarkable work in welcoming and retaining English-speaking newcomers who settle here through interprovincial migration or immigration. However, these organizations need adequate funding to be able to continue to play that role effectively.

We also need the support of businesses, which depend on community organizations for developing a bilingual work force in a predominantly French-speaking region. The region would certainly benefit from more support to existing community organizations, as well as funding for new organizations that can work together to contribute to the region’s economic prosperity. The economic health of the region, and of the province, depends on this. Everybody wins when we help newcomers realize their potential.

The ability to count on a bilingual work force makes Quebec open to national and international business, and makes it attractive to 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.

Both language communities have a lot to learn from each other. But the vitality of Quebec’s English-speaking communities depends on the support of municipal, provincial and federal governments. Quebec’s English-speaking communities are a unique linguistic and cultural asset, and have contributed greatly to shaping modern Quebec. The contributions of these increasingly bilingual communities deserve to be recognized. On the other hand, some communities, especially those outside urban areas, are having difficulty attracting a enough English-speaking immigrants to offset the low birth rate and the exodus of young people. And these communities need people to revitalize their institutions in the long term.

Promoting the development of our official language communities encourages entrepreneurs and employers to create businesses that strengthen these communities. Opportunities in sectors as diverse as arts and culture, education and tourism encourage young people to stay, students to register at a region’s educational institutions, workers to migrate and newcomers to settle. In fact, Rachel Hunting, Executive Director of the Townshippers’ Association, will give a presentation on a particularly interesting program, Make Way for Youth, that I look forward to learning more about.

And of course, let’s not forget that successful projects and business models in an English-speaking community can have economic spin-offs that reach the provincial and national level.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has been interested in the question of immigration in official language communities for several years. In fact, my latest annual report, presented last May, addresses this issue. A section deals specifically with Anglophone immigration in Quebec. In this report, I put forward two recommendations to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The first one recommends that the federal government provide funding to research projects identified by the English-speaking communities of Quebec, and the second one asks the Minister to clearly identify the measures he intends to take to enhance the vitality of the English-speaking communities of Quebec through immigration, and to engage with the Government of Quebec on enhancing the vitality of these communities. My annual report is available on my office’s website.

The English-speaking community is part of Quebec’s heritage and its future, as well as important for the province’s economy. It is time that the Quebec government officially recognizes the added value that Quebec’s English-speaking communities represent in welcoming English-speaking newcomers. This is why it is important to ensure the vitality and sustainability of these communities, and to make sure that they have the resources needed to welcome English-speaking newcomers and help them integrate into Quebec society.

English-speaking community organizations must be able to continue their efforts to make every newcomer feel at home, so newcomers are ready to engage with their new community when they arrive in Quebec.

Thank you.


Footnote 1

Canadian Heritage and Statistics Canada, “Interprovincial Migration,” in Languages in Canada: 2006 Census, Gatineau, 2013. On-line version accessed March 31, 2015.

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