Faced with poll showing COVID-19 fears among English speakers, Legault blames media

A new poll shows that English speakers in Quebec are significantly more worried about COVID-19 than French speakers, and are almost twice as likely to wear a mask.

English speakers, as a whole, also feel much less comfortable with Quebec Premier François Legault’s proposed schedule for reopening the province’s economy and schools, the poll found.

Faced with these numbers on Wednesday, Legault lashed out at English-language media, saying at a press conference that the Montreal Gazette in particular “has a certain responsibility.”

The poll, carried out by Léger Marketing and commissioned by the Quebec Community Groups Network and the Association for Canadian Studies, took the form of a web survey. It asked Quebecers to answer a series of questions about their feelings and experiences so far during the pandemic and to indicate if they were anglophone, francophone or allophone.

The difference between the French- and English-speakers was clear on almost every count.

When asked if they were “very afraid” of getting the virus themselves, 21 per cent of Quebec English speakers said yes, almost twice the 11 per cent rate of French speakers. For “somewhat afraid,” it was 47 per cent versus 36 per cent.

People in Montreal are much more scared than the rest of the province, but again, English speakers the most of all. In Montreal, 72 per cent of English speakers are afraid of getting it themselves, compared to 50 per cent of the city’s French speakers. 

French speakers in Montreal start to worry more when it comes to their immediate family being infected: 60 per cent said they were afraid of that. English speakers were equally as worried about family's health as about their own, with the number remaining at 72 per cent.

In fact, English-speaking Montrealers are more afraid of contracting the virus than any other group in Canada.

English speakers  and French speakers are also taking very different approaches to wearing masks in public, as recommended by public health authorities. Forty-five per cent of English speakers said they had done so in the week prior to the poll, versus 24 per cent of French speakers. 

On Wednesday, at a press conference, Legault was asked about the next section of the poll, which showed that English speakers are not happy with his government’s plans.

Among English speakers, 47 per cent wanted to slow down the pace of deconfinement, compared to 31 per cent of French speakers. 

English-speakers appeared to be especially upset about schools reopening. In a separate question, when given a list of particular actions at various levels of government, 17 per cent of English speakers picked school reopenings as a major source of dissatisfaction, versus 4 per cent of French speakers. 

The provincial government is paying a price among English speakers, with a 74 per cent satisfaction rating compared to 91 per cent among French speakers. 

The numbers were reversed for the federal government, with 85 of English speakers approving of the Trudeau government’s response versus 72 per cent of French speakers. 

Given these differences of opinion on deconfinement, a CTV journalist asked Legault on Wednesday, “are you concerned the message is not evenly accepted in the population?”

Legault responded that “journalists, you have a responsibility,” especially singling out a health reporter at the Gazette. 

“I like to read a certain journalist of The Gazette, the specialist in health,” said Legault. “Sometimes, I really disagree with him.”

He later clarified that he was referring to reporter Aaron Derfel, who has been publishing daily detailed data on the pandemic, often along with harsh criticism of the Legault government’s deconfinement plans.

“It's a question of information, so I'm trying to do my best in French and in English, so I don't see why the result is not the same for francophones and anglophones,” said Legault. 

“I guess maybe The Gazette has a certain responsibility.”

The editor-in-chief of the Gazette, Lucinda Chodan, later wrote on Twitter that she objected “strongly” to Legault’s suggestion that Derfel “is inciting fear in anglophones.” 

Derfel “covers issues of concern to all Quebecers, regardless of language,” she wrote.

I object strongly to the suggestion by Premier @francoislegault that @mtlgazette health reporter @Aaron_Derfel is inciting fear in anglophones. He covers issues of concern to all Quebecers, regardless of language.

— Lucinda Chodan (@lchodan) May 13, 2020

The poll numbers offer another possible explanation for English speakers'’ worries.

English-speaking Quebecers said they were far more likely than their French-speaking neighbours—34 per cent versus 21 per cent—to personally know someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Some of the earliest outbreaks in Montreal were in more heavily English neighourhoods, including Côte Saint-Luc and NDG, though the local epicentres have now shifted to more French areas.

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