Commentary: Language requirements necessary for Quebec’s culture and economy

Quebec’s incessant language war found new fuel as McGill and Concordia recently released statements criticizing the province’s strict French language requirement for granting permanent residency, which was introduced in 2013 by the Parti Québécois (PQ). The universities claim that strict rules requiring proficiency in French are making it difficult to attract foreign professors.

The Liberal Party of Quebec responded to these complaints and instituted changes in December 2014 to make it easier for candidates with doctoral degrees to gain permanent resident status by giving them more ‘points’ in the immigration process. It would not be fair or necessary to implement further changes to make it easier for foreign professors to come to Quebec. The provincial government subsidizes universities with taxpayer money. Considering that the majority of taxpayers in Quebec are French-speaking, it is safe to assume that it wouldn’t represent the majority’s wishes to allow easier immigration for non-francophones to teach in Quebec’s universities.

Many anglophones have continued to demand that the government reform language laws to make it even easier for professors to bypass the requirements, in the hopes that this would allow universities to obtain the best talents possible. However, this mandate fails to look at the issue from a wider perspective. The clear goal of the strict language standards is to protect the French language in Quebec. All Quebec institutions—including McGill and Concordia—have a lot to gain from the preservation of the native language in the long run, which is what attracts many students to Montreal and to their universities. Therefore, the regulations are best left alone.

“All Quebec institutions […] have a lot to gain from the preservation of the native language in the long run.”

The urgency of the decline of the French language in Canada is another main factor necessitating strict language regulations. According to Statistics Canada, in 1981, 25 per cent of Canadians reported using French as the main language in their home, and in 2011, this percentage shrank to 21 per cent. While this drop is alarming enough for francophones, the truly worrisome part is that the decreasing use of French in Quebec itself is contributing to the decline rather than offsetting it. While there are many factors contributing to this decline of French in Quebec, the influx of non-French speaking immigrants constitutes a large part of the decline in French usage.

The Quebec government seeks to stop the movement away from the French language. Unless the movement away from using French is slowed, division and hostility between anglophones and francophones will reach a boiling point. According to some, political division and threats of separation are already key players behind Quebec’s poor economy. Investors and researchers do not want to put time or resources into a province that is as politically volatile as Quebec. Therefore, preserving the native language and maintaining political stability by keeping the majority happy is one way for Quebec to attract more business in the future, which will, in itself, attract more foreign workers and professors.

Furthermore, the idea of bringing in foreign professors and other workers at the cost of Quebec’s language and culture is counterproductive. Many people come to Quebec for the distinct lifestyle it offers—some even come to learn French. As McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier said in 2013, “McGill can attract the best professors and the best researchers because it attracts the best students. And we can attract the best students because they are attracted to Quebec.” Quebec’s identity is based around being the only French-speaking province in Canada, and if the language continues to get phased out, the province may not attract as many newcomers. While the strict language requirements may seem harsh, they are an efficient way to ensure the survival of the French language in Quebec, which will improve its economy and preserve its identity in the long run.

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