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Québec’s Temporary Migrants Seen as Threat to French

Athina Kontos reports on fears that English-speaking immigrants to Canada may alter the language balance

Québec’s new commissioner of French says a boom in the number of temporary migrants is threatening the status of French, citing “significant repercussions.”

In the first report of his new position, Benoît Dubreuil addresses concerns over the rise in the use of English in the homes of immigrants to Canada. Critical of the report, the Québec Liberal Party are arguing that governments have no business in policing the languages that people speak at home. 

Dubreil also uses the report to comment on immigration statistics, particularly concerning those in transit or residing temporarily in Québec. 

The report, delivered to the National Assembly says “Recent polling data shows that in 2021, French was less in use than English among non-permanent residents,” – “We can consider that this strong use of English in the workplace among non-permanent residents (34.6%) is having significant repercussions on the situation of French in Québec.”

In May, Immigration Minister and member of the Coalition Avenir Québec party Christine Fréchette announced a potential plan to increase the total number of full-time immigrants to Québec to 60,000 a year by 2027. However, she made it clear that this plan would not include temporary workers and there would be no limit on their number.  

The Coalition Avenir Québec government has faced criticism from some opposing parties for not including temporary workers in its overall immigration plan – which at its core, is increasingly being tailored to protect the French language. 

The Parti Québécois, a long term advocate for sovereignty for the province of Québec, argues temporary migrants should be a factor in the debate because their total number undoubtedly has an impact on the status of French.

At a recent news conference, PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon acknowledged Dubreuil in echoing his party’s message and accusing the government of focusing only on a business lobby for more temporary workers.

St-Pierre Plamondon explained to reporters “For us, it’s black and white—there needs to be a plan for temporary immigration.”

Dubreil examines uses of French across Québec in his report, referring back to a book he co-authored in 2011 Le remède imaginaire: Pourquoi l’immigration ne sauvera pas le Québec on the matter of French spoken at home. The book argues that the language spoken at home by immigrants to Canada is a “relevant factor” for measuring the status of French. 

As of 2023, the number of native French-speakers in Québec has dropped from 77.1% to 74.8%, and the number of home French-speakers has declined from 79% to 77.5%. 

Liberal leader Marc Tanguay continues to bring opposing arguments to the forefront and repeated his belief for freedom of linguistic choice at home. At a recent news conference, he said “Trying to convince people that they are a menace because they are not speaking French at home should not be part of the debate,”.

As of June 2023, a new language law in Québec means all commercial contracts that “are not subject to the Charter” must be drawn up in French or provided simultaneously in French and another language. 

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