The Anglo exodus may be over

Par Dan Delmar le 9 avril 2009

Angryphone alarmists would have you believe that the hemorrhaging seen in that community following Bill 101 and the referendums has not ended; that Anglophones are still driving U-Hauls down the 401 in droves to escape our oppressive Francophone overlords. Unfortunately, pesky facts and statistics expose that argument as one that is misleading, exaggerated and rooted in paranoia. The fact is, the bleeding has stopped and some of the Anglo deserters of decades past are coming back. 

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) told the Senate last month that “federal institutions must find innovative ways of supporting our community.” In other words, they want money. What is offensive is that the QCGN has their hands out, making a pitch to our government, based on old platitudes about Anglo-Franco relations and, more troubling still, based on old statistics.

At the heart of their argument is that “the brain drain from Quebec continues. Between 1996 and 2001, Quebec lost more than 8,000 Anglophones a year.” Allow me to take this opportunity to remind the QCGN that it is now 2009 and much has changed since the 2001 census data was released. The most important fact they chose to ignore is that the most recent census figures actually show an increase in Quebec’s Anglo population. A pleasant surprise, n’est-ce pas?

Between 2001 and 2006, Quebec’s Anglo community grew by 16,000 people. It’s the first increase in population seen since 1976; Statistics Canada attributed the gains, in part, to the return of some Anglos who left following the last referendum. These are the most recent census figures and the QCGN blatantly ignored them in their report to the Senate. It’s shameful that a non-profit organization that claims to be the voice for English-speaking Quebecers would be so manipulative with the facts, especially since updated data is so readily available.

Perhaps the influx comes as unwelcome news for the heads of the QCGN who, like Alliance Quebec, may not survive if there is no pressing need for an Anglo rights umbrella group. Proponents of the free market will surely agree that the laws of supply and demand could also be applied to activist groups; if there is not any need for protest, there is not any need to support the protesters.

The QCGN report contains some divisive language reminiscent of Galganovian two solitudes rhetoric, which has since gone stale. They question the “willingness of French-speaking Quebec to actively support our place within Quebec.” A sovereignist friend of mine recently summed up the attitude of the modern Québécois toward Anglos and other minority groups: “Do you like it here? Do you like the French language? If so, then welcome. You’re Québécois.” It may not always be as simple as that, but to suggest that Anglos are unwelcome in this province shows just how out-of-touch the QCGN is with post-referendum Quebec. Those who do not welcome Anglophones because of old insecurities and stereotypes probably would not welcome anybody who is not pure laine to being with; this problem not an Anglo problem. It’s a les autres problem.

In all fairness, the QCGN does make a few interesting points. Although the brain drain is not as pronounced as it once was, many Anglos do still leave Quebec because it simply isn’t profitable to stay (ask a med student who is forced to work in Chibougamau upon graduation). But, again, the problem isn’t one that is confined to this community. Everyone is tempted to leave; Anglos, Francos and everyone in between. I would encourage the QCGN to consider shifting the debate from one of Anglo victimization to one that points to a systematic failure of the Quebec model to foster success chez nous. The fixation with collective rights, although important to a point, has consequences; one being the stunting of human potential. Success, unfortunately, and staying in Quebec are often mutually exclusive concepts.

It’s not all doom and gloom. On top of the influx of Anglos to Quebec in recent years, there are small signs that members of this community can achieve greatness once again – provided they recognize that French is this province’s official language. For example, Kathleen Weil, a former lawyer for Alliance Quebec, is now the Minister of Justice. Granted, her past work with the Anglo rights group wasn’t exactly highlighted by the Liberal party during last year’s election, it can still be considered progress.

I also give the QCGN credit for pointing out that “French-language training that recognizes the French language as an essential job skill,” is lacking. “A successful human resources development strategy in cooperation and with support from key provincial and federal partners is of paramount importance to the survival of our community.” The ability for Anglos to learn and embrace the French language is key. It does not represent submission. It’s enhancing one’s self and recognizing that, for all its faults, this Francophone island inside Anglophone North America is a bastion of joie de vivre. There is much to discover east of St. Laurent Blvd. and the more borders we continue to break down, the more we destroy the divisive and antiquated concept of the two solitudes.

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