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December 2017
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C’est la vie

We’re living in interesting times in Quebec. There is a relatively new minority government, the Parti Quebecois, trying to drive that separatists wedge between the Province and the Federal government. The Parti Quebecois exist for one reason – separation from Canada – an independant Quebec. As you would expect they blame the state of the economy on the previous administration and the Federal bodies, and claim there isn’t enough money to go around.  There is a lot that needs to be sorted in Quebec, and I can’t help but think there are more important things to resolve than whether Quebec is in or out of Canada.Bill 14 Protest,

Given the state of the infrastructure, the lack of family doctors, the aging population, etc etc, one would think that language issues would be at the bottom of the list when it comes to things to be resolved. But no, not in Quebec. Instead it is right up there as one of the first pieces of legislation that the new government wants to introduce. Why you might ask? Well as far as I can see it has nothing to do with enhancing life in Quebec, instead it is about eroding the rights of anglophones, in the hope that they leave Quebec, and hence improve the chances of a ‘Yes’ vote to separation, when they finally announce the next referendum. Some highlights from the new law include:

  • reducing the number of students who are eligible to be taught mainly in English
  • reinforcing the laws of the language police to check that french is being used in businesses and shops etc
  • making all businesses with 26 employees or more work in french (the number is currently 50 employees)

When all of the above is coupled with the existing deconian measures, it appears to have two simple aims. Reduce the human rights of anglophones, and keep the population of Quebec ignorant of the english language, and that there is a world outside of Quebec.

To me it seems such a shame and missed opportunity. Quebec and Montreal in particular have a wonderful opportunity in my mind. The fusion of English and French in Montreal is really quite amazing. The chance to be bi-lingual is so much higher in Montreal than in most others major cities around the world. If every child from Kindergarden upwards was immersed in French and English, they would have skills for life. I only have to look at us, to see the impliations. We thought we were doing the right thing when we came to Montreal by sending Millie and Sophie to Christmas Park School. We thought sending them to an english school would help them make the transition from the UK to Canada. We thought it would be an easier introduction to french, as  it was notionally as 50% english/50% french school. In hindsight we got it wrong, we should have sent them to a french school from day one. It would have been hard, and there would have been tears, but it would have been the right decision. Why? well after 3 years at Christmas Park School, Millie and Sophie had some knowledge of french but weren’t fluent. They would default to english at every opportunity. Whilst the french was taught better than it would have been in the UK, it wasn’t the best way of learning the language. So after 3 years, we moved Millie and Sophie to Ecole St Remi, the french school next door. Instantly their french has improved, and they are fluent speakers, and ever improving written french. They have even passed the entrance exams in french to attend one of the good French private high schools in downtown Montreal from September. They have english at home, but are immersed in french at school. This immersion is key in my mind. The only reason they are not completely fluent is the fact that they were not immersed at an earlier age. When this is compared to me, I really struggle. I started from having being taught limited french in the UK, and then whilst I have had lessons whilst in Canada, my work and home life is in an english environment. The reality is I started to late, and my only hope of improving is to expose myself to the french language on a daily basis, and become as immersed as I can. (Not always that easy when there are deadlines to be hit, and for me to work efficiently means working in english). Trying to learn a new language when over 40, is much harder than when you are at a pre-school age. We want Millie and Sophie to be fluent in french and english, so that if they choose to live and work in Quebec they can, but also they have wider opportunities to live and work globally should they desire. By being bi-lingual it will help them and it will help Quebec.

I should caviate this by saying that the reason it works for us, is that having english as a first language, means that the girls learn english at home, but have the french immersion at school. This is vital, because the quality of english taught in the french schools is poor. Did you know the plural of sheep is sheeps? So as an anglophone family we want our girls to go to french school, and if we were a francophone family, I would want our girls to go to an….. wait for it…. english school. But does Quebec allow this – no. Unless you are part of an ever decreasing minority who have eligibility to the english school system, by law you have to attend school in french – mais oui!

An interesting twist to all the above, is that it is almost always the english language which is blamed for the demise of the french language in Quebec. This is despite the influx of chinese and asian immigrants who bring their own languages and cultures. In many ways their human rights are protected, whilst the rights of anglophones are diminished. It is also in spite of the fact that the statistics show that french is being used to the same degree if not more in the workplace than before. For me, the focus is wrong, the governement efforts should be looking to encourage investment in Quebec, not put up barriers; they should focus on the really big issues and get a long term plan in place for sorting the infrastructure and health care – if Parti Quebecois wants to retain power then these actions would help them do so. All the talk of languages is a side issue that just drives divisions within communities for now healthy reason.

All I can say is thank god for hockey, because if one think brings Quebecors together it is a successful Canadiens team, and with the team having exceeded expectations so far and having made the playoffs this year, we’re all hoping for a long run – Go Habs Go!

Stepping down now, until next time.

Doug

 

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