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Commentary: Diffusing anglophone tension in Quebec

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Anglophone-francophone relations in Quebec have not been off to a good start in 2015 as the tension and unrest within anglophone communities is reaching a climax. Graham Fraser, the official language commissioner of Canada, recently made a call for the Quebec government to create an Office of Anglophone Affairs, a request that was promptly shut down by the governing Quebec Liberals. The government’s prompt refusal has worsened the worry of the anglophone population that it is being marginalized, and has only amplified tensions with the Francophone majority.

Why does the government reject the decision to give the anglophones what they want? For the same reason that Bill 10—which was met with opposition from English speakers because it would merge English health-care agencies into a governmental mega-board—was conceived: It saves money. By replacing local health agencies with one big system, Bill 10 would drastically reduce bureaucracy costs, saving the government nearly $220 million a year. Needless to say, Quebec has not been doing well economically, and the government has made many moves to reduce spending. It seems rather counterproductive that they should create another office at this time, introducing heavy bureaucracy costs which they are constantly trying to reduce. Realizing this, it is easy to see that anglophones’ consistent demands for increased power and accessibility are not reasonable and will only increase their hostility with many French-speaking Quebecers.

Many people will argue that because Ontario, for example, has an Office of Francophone Affairs, Quebec should have one for anglophones since Quebec’s percentage of anglophones (7.7 per cent) is much higher than the percentage of French-speakers in other provinces (3.9 per cent for Ontario). However, those making this argument should understand the limitations of the role and influence of these francophone offices. For example, in Ontario, the primary goal is to provide government services in French to 25 designated areas that have a significant French-speaking population (over 10 per cent of inhabitants). In theory, an anglophone variant of such a department would be a constructive introduction to Quebec if the main problems faced by the English-speakers were based around government services.

However, this is simply not the case, as a survey conducted by CBC last year revealed that only 28 per cent of anglophone Quebecers felt that they did not have access to government services in English. Essentially, an Office of Anglophone Affairs would waste resources to enforce systems that were already in place in a desperate attempt to assuage the English speakers who feel they are underrepresented.

The true problem is that many English speakers feel that they are losing power, and that their prospects in Quebec seem rather bleak. This is especially a big concern for students who will be graduating from anglophone institutions such as McGill. A study done at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) revealed that the majority of anglophone students (two-thirds of them from McGill) felt that they would not be able to have successful careers in this province. A large portion of them expressed that they have felt discriminated in various public places and in the workplace, primarily due to their linguistic differences.

The true problem is that many English speakers feel that they are losing power, and that their prospects in Quebec seem rather bleak.

However, the more surprising result gathered from the study was that anglophones were not the only group to feel threatened. In fact, plenty of young francophones expressed worry that the English speaking community could harm their own survival as French-speakers in Quebec. As students who are a few years away from graduating and possibly diving into the workforce and community of Quebec, it is important for McGill students to think critically about this proposed measure. Would the creation of an anglophone office—which would add costs to the government and use up taxpayer’s money—really benefit English speakers in the long run? Without a doubt, it would worsen the feelings of division and hostility between the two groups, which would only further hurt the career prospects of anglophones. While the demands of the English speakers in Quebec seem reasonable on the surface, the establishment of an Office of Anglophone Affairs would not fix any of their concerns and would only aggravate the distrust between the English and French speakers in the province.

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