The Language of Champlain

The time has come to stop the decline of French in Canada.  It’s no longer enough to promote bilingualism.  The federal government must increase its efforts decisively to promote the use of French throughout Canada.


Since the voyages of Jacques Cartier in the 1530s, and probably before that time, French has been used on the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean which now constitute Canada, as well as along the "river of Canada" (the St. Lawrence).


From the 17th century, French speaking settlers settled on the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lawrence River.  Over time these settlers came to describe themselves as Acadians, Métis or Canadians.


At the time of the cession of Acadia, Nova Scotia and Canada by the Treaties of Utrecht (1715) and Paris (1763), English became the second European language spoken frequently on our territory.  The arrival of the Loyalists in the 1780s, as well as the influx of other American immigrants during the 1790s and the large-scale immigration of British nationals after the War of 1812, greatly strengthened the ranks of our English-speaking population.


Barely a century after the conclusion of the Treaty of Utrecht, English was on an equal footing with French in the British colonies in North America.  With this dominant position for English, indigenous languages too were endangered.


The percentage of the population of Canada’s future provinces with French as their mother tongue dropped from 50% in 1820 to 30% in 1867 thanks to waves of immigration, mostly British and English-speaking.  But between Confederation in 1867 and 1950 – that is, over more than eight decades – this proportion of Francophones remained stable.  With the decline in birth rates during the second half of the 20th century, as well as the arrival of new waves of modern and predominantly English-speaking immigrants during this period, this proportion continued to weaken, reaching 22% in 2011.


At the same time, the number of Canadians who declared themselves bilingual, or able to converse in both languages, grew stronger over the same period – especially after the report of the Laurendeau-Dunton Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963 and the adoption of the Official Languages ct in 1969.  According to the results of the 2011 census, in that year 5.8 million people in Canada considered themselves bilingual, or 17.5% of the population; in 1961, there were only 2.2 million bilingual Canadians, or 12.2% of the population. However, the rate of bilingualism seems to have peaked around 2001.


French has lost ground in Canada over the last three centuries, notably because of Anglophone immigration combined with more or less explicit policies aimed at assimilating Francophones, such as those proposed by the Durham report in 1839.  Fortunately, these policies were gradually dismantled during the century between 1860 and 1960.


At the very least, Confederation has guaranteed the status of French within the parliamentary and judicial institutions of Canada and Quebec, and since 1970 French-language school boards or French immersion programmes, together with the provision of services in French in New Brunswick, Ontario and elsewhere, has continued to grow.  However, according to the most recent statistics, students who learn French in immersion schools are very likely to lose it afterwards – because they do not have enough opportunities to use it.


In 2011, ten million Canadians, or 30% of the total population, spoke "the language of Champlain".  To enable as many Canadians as possible to learn, use and flourish in French, we must focus on quality French language instruction, viable Francophone communities across Canada, and workplaces where the main language used is French.  To maintain the strength of the French fact in Canada, it is no longer enough to promote bilingualism: French and French-speaking communities across the country must flourish.


In the European Union, 54 per cent of the population is fluent in at least two languages.  Canada is fortunate to have two major international and official languages.  We must be ambitious for the success of our two languages strengthening the presence and use of French outside Quebec.


In order to increase opportunities to live and work in French across Canada, as the leader of our Party and as Prime Minister of Canada, I would commit myself to:


(i)             target a proportion of the population with French as a mother tongue greater than 20%, a proportion of the population able to communicate in French greater than 30%, and a growing bilingual population;


(ii)           support urban, community and economic planning in all regions where Francophones settle outside Quebec to strengthen the French language identity of our communities; access to education and services in French; and French as a language of work;


(iii)          establish a permanent federal institution responsible for promoting French as a language of culture, science and business and as an international digital language for invention and entrepreneurship;


(iv)          increase the number of immigrants settling annually in provinces and territories outside Quebec to 20,000; and


(v)           use the role of the federal government to strengthen the use of French in business, research and public spaces across Canada.

Alexandra Day