Without Canada, French Quebec would be lost in a generation

NationalPost.com – fullcomment
Jun 23, 2011.   Tasha Kheiriddin

According to former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe inan interview aired June 22 on RDI:

“If Quebecers do not move [to separate], within 15 years, inevitably, they will find themselves on the same slope as the French Canadians and Acadians. It is a rapid assimilation. You can not hide the truth.”

Dear Mr Duceppe, you have it perfectly backwards. Far from Canada posing an assimilationist threat to Francophone Quebec, our federal state is one of the main reasons it remains a French-speaking society today. From the Quebec Act of 1774 to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada has protected the place of its French minority. If Quebec were to separate, that protection would be gone, and Francophone society would be assimilated by the wider world within a generation or two– not by force, but by a convergence of political, geographic, and economic factors.

As an independent country of 8 million people, Quebec would not enjoy the same treatment as it does being part of Canada. It would be linguistically isolated in a sea of 529 million North Americans, who either speak English or Spanish (225 million people, including 50 million in the United States). Quebec’s geographic position is wholly different than that of France (66 million people) in the EU, or that of French-speaking countries in Africa, where there are other neighbouring states which make use of the language as well and have an incentive to do business in it. Quebec’s main trading partners would have little such incentive – and would be less likely to respect its demands for the use of French.

What would be the results? First, the amount of visible English would increase. Companies would be freed from the requirement to label products bilingually for export to Canada. Unless they were already exporting to French markets, expect foreign manufacturers to revert to English only, especially since the backlash against French in the rest of Canada would make bilingual products unattractive there. If Quebec obliged imports to be labelled in French, it could expect a decline in the number of goods available to consumers, who would likely not be too pleased at their government and ironically might well demand the lifting of such restrictions.

Second, the need for Quebecers to speak English would increase – and the price of doing business in French would rise. Dealing with the Canadian government? No more requirements for bilingual meetings. No more simultaneous translation of French into English. As for the private sector, maintaining French-only laws in the workplace would be another layer of costs which would make Quebec companies less competitive than their North American rivals – and which would diminish the attractiveness of Quebec to much-needed foreign investors.

Third, the federal government would no longer send transfer payments to Quebec, which would mean a loss of nearly $8 billion in annual revenue. While Quebec will argue that it is no longer sending taxes to Ottawa, the reality is that even with transfers, it cannot support all the generous social programs it currently funds, such as $7 a day daycare, rock-bottom university tuition, and free in vitro fertilization treatments. (It also can’t meet the basic needs of its population: its health care system is falling apart, public prosecutors are in revolt and and its roads are in awful shape. ) How it could afford “language police”, language bureaucracies, and other means of protecting the French language?

Fourth, Quebec’s population will start to decline. For starters, it will face an exodus of people who don’t want to live in a separate Quebec. Next, children of Anglophones or Allophones, who are the most “portable” in terms of their language skills, will hive off after graduation and take jobs abroad. Finally, fewer immigrants will come to Quebec since it will no longer offer a gateway into Canada. Between 1971 and 2001 Quebec sustained a net loss of 387,000 people to the rest of Canada in terms of interprovincial migration; expect that trend to accelerate. A smaller population means a smaller tax base – and again, less money to sustain the preservation of French.

The survival of language is directly tied to economics. No money, no clout, no French. In fact, Duceppe’s analogy of the deportation of the Acadians to Louisiana is a testament to the role of political factors as a bulwark against economics. In Louisiana, Acadian French-speakers had no state-ordered linguistic protection, whether in the form of subsidies or legal guarantees. They had to speak English to survive, and were assimilated by economic necessity.

The same would happen to an independent Quebec. If Quebecers want to continue living and working in French, their best option is to remain part of Canada – and to turn a deaf ear to out-of-work politicians trying to scare-monger their way into their next job.

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