French dwindling in Quebec? Not exactly, if you crunch the numbers, says expert

The CAQ government's worries about the French language are off-base, statistically speaking, says one pollster.

"All the indicator says there's a decline of French in Quebec, particularly in Montreal," Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said on Tuesday, as the province announced it will be overhauling Bill 101 in 2021.

It hasn't said exactly what solutions it has in store, but Jolin-Barrette, who is responsible for the French language, said the problem itself is clear.

One survey published this summer found that the use of English was increasing in stores in Montreal, while Jolin-Barrette also referred to statistics showing that the proportion of Montrealers whose mother tongue is French has dipped below 50 per cent in recent years.

But the president of the Association for Canadian Studies said that's not the whole story -- and accused the CAQ of pandering to pundits.

"They've been persuaded by some media, particularly by Quebecor media, that there's a serious situation out there in which French is not only in decline but in freefall," said Jack Jedwab, the president of the association, which also conducts its own polls.

"The principal evidence that's given to show the French language is in decline is that there's a percentage decrease in the extent to which people's mother tongue is French or the language they speak most often is French in Montreal," Jedwab said.

But, he said, "that's also true for English, paradoxically."

The real change is that there's a bigger mix of languages in Montreal than ever before, with demographics shifting because of immigration -- in other words, there are more people now whose first languages are neither English nor French.

Jedwab said the numbers also show that more English speakers and "allophones" speak French now than in the past.

The Liberals' anglophone affairs' critic, Greg Kelley, said he's worried about what the changes to the law could mean and is anxious to hear what they are.

Seniors in particular, many of whom are unilinigual English speakers, can be "a little bit intimidated" to deal with Quebec institutions already, he said.

Kelley said he's not against protecting and promoting French, but that there are many ways to do that. For instance, he tabled a bill last year to make French classes free for all Quebecers.

"The bill is still on the table at the National Assembly, waiting to be called to be studied," he said.

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