The thorny issue of identity takes center stage in Quebec’s general election

The thorny issue of identity takes center stage in Quebec’s general election

The decline of the French language, immigration: Quebec’s election campaign has once again put identity issues at the center of debates, with sensational statements from the ruling party, believed to be the favorite to vote on Monday.

Secluded in the heart of a primarily English-speaking North America, Quebec has always vigorously defended its French-speaking identity. A struggle waged by the party in power since its election four years ago, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a heterogeneous right-wing nationalist party.

Non-French-speaking immigration, if left unchecked, could pose a threat to the province’s social cohesion, said outgoing Prime Minister François Legault at the start of the campaign.

It would be “a bit suicidal” to welcome more newcomers given the decline in French, he said again this week.

During a debate, his Minister of Immigration, Jean Boulet, told him that “80% of immigrants do not work, do not speak French or do not adhere to the values ​​of Quebec society”. An unfounded departure that caused an uproar and could get him his job.

In view of the blatant labor shortage in the province, which has a population of just under 8.5 million, immigration is a real economic issue.

Given the demographic graying and historically low unemployment rate, the French-speaking province is currently looking for more than 250,000 workers. And the government expects 1.4 million jobs to be filled in the province by 2030.

If re-elected, François Legault, a 65-year-old multimillionaire businessman, plans to leave the threshold at 50,000 immigrants a year.

“We tend to shift all the responsibility (for the decline of the French language, editor’s note) onto the immigrants,” stresses sociologist Jean-Pierre Corbeil with concern. “And that’s where it’s dangerous, because a discourse on exclusion takes shape.”

“I think it’s extremely… I would almost say unhealthy,” comments Richard Marcoux, also a sociologist and an expert on the French-speaking world, adding that “we really need to resume the discussion after the elections are coming up immigration issues even differently”.

– Decline of French? –

Although opinions differ on the issue of immigration, all major parties in the race agree on the need to preserve a France in decline.

“We are in a critical situation. There is a real linguistic emergency in Quebec,” said Parti Québécois (Sovereign) campaign manager Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.

In particular, the politicians justified their concern with the latest census figures, which show that “since 2001, the proportion of the population who speak French at home most often in Quebec has been decreasing”. This proportion has increased from 81.1% in 2001 to 77.5% in 2021.

But the situation “is not that catastrophic,” says Jean-Pierre Corbeil, who is also the former head of the government’s program for language statistics.

He denounces the “very simplistic” vision of institutions in their definition of a French speaker, which only counts those who primarily speak French at home.

“Are we interested in the evolution of the number of Francophones – and we have to agree on a definition – or shouldn’t the goal be to discuss the situation of the French,” he wonders, recalling all these citizens with “multiple affiliations”. who speak French but it is not their first language.

Richard Marcoux agrees that this “multilingualism” is not sufficiently taken into account in Quebec.

“In my opinion, when we are told about indicators based on mother tongue, it does not take into account the vitality and importance of French in the population,” explains the director of the Demographic and Statistical Observatory of the French-speaking world.

For the researcher, “English is advancing, here as everywhere else in the world, whether in Italy, Poland, Romania, France, but at the same time the languages ​​are not disappearing”.


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