Francophones have made big gains since Bill 101: report
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 | 7:34 PM ET
In the 30 years since Quebec passed its language law, Bill 101, francophones have made substantial gains in income and in ownership of the economy, according to a new study by the C.D. Howe Institute.
The study shows the economic benefits of knowing French in Quebec have increased steadily since the 1960s, while the benefits of knowing English have declined.
Economists Francois Vaillancourt and Dominique Lemay, along with McGill University law student Luc Vaillancourt, produced the study, titled "Laggards No More: The Changed Socioeconomic Status of Francophones in Quebec."
They said that the ability to speak both English and French has increased the earnings of anglophone men since 1980, with the same true for anglophone women since 1990.
The benefits of being bilingual also have been positive for francophone men and women, the authors wrote.
"The healthy state of the French language in Quebec is also evident in the impressive growth in ownership of Quebec’s economy by francophone firms, from 47 per cent to 67 per cent since the early 1960s."
Foreign ownership declined by 26 per cent over the same period, while anglophone Canadian ownership declined by 44 per cent.
The authors of the report studied census data to calculate the changes in income by language group and by sex. They screened out the effects on income of factors such as level of education, years of experience and length of time worked.
They found that in 1970, bilingual francophones trailed bilingual anglophones, making about $7,360 on average, compared to $8,940 for anglophones.
By 2000, they were making just slightly more than anglophones, $38,850 compared to $38,745.
To explain some of the changes, the authors of the study point out that there was a significant departure of anglophones from Quebec after Bill 101 was passed. They also note that the public sector hired a lot of francophones after the province’s Quiet Revolution.
"In turn, private-sector, francophone-owned firms grew by providing services in French to the public sector."
The report argues that learning a second language in elementary schools is important, given the "plasticity" of younger brains and the obvious benefits of bilingualism.
Bill 101 – Language laws in Quebec
The first laws governing the use of French in Quebec were passed early in the 20th century. The first was the Lavergne Law, passed in 1910, which required that tickets for buses, trains and trams be printed in both French and English.
In 1937, the government of Premier Maurice Duplessis passed a law requiring the French text of Quebec laws to prevail over the English, reasoning that the French would better reflect the intent of the lawmakers. Anglophones in Quebec resented the law and it was repealed the following year.
In the fall of 1969, Quebec’s last Union Nationale government – it was the party of Duplessis – passed Bill 63. It was an attempt to address a number of issues. One involved a school board in the Montreal suburb of St-Leonard that had decided that all children whose mother tongue was not English would have to go to French schools. That angered many in the community, which had a high concentration of Italian immigrants.
The legislation was also designed to improve access to French classes for immigrants, to help them better integrate into Quebec.
However, in effect, the bill guaranteed Quebecers the right to choose in what language their children would be educated. Critics argued that would mean that Quebec’s rapidly growing allophone (neither French nor English) community would gravitate towards the English community.
The legislation was cited as a major factor in the defeat of the government in 1970 – and the eventual disappearance of the Union Nationale as a political force in Quebec.
In 1974, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Robert Bourassa passed Bill 22, la Loi sur la langue officielle, which made French the province’s official language. Under the legislation, French became the official language of contracts, and corporations were forced to give themselves French names and to advertise primarily in French in Quebec. They also had to acquire a certificate of francization, which could only be obtained when a company showed it could function in French and address its employees in French.
The legislation also restricted enrolment in English schools for the first time. Children had to show they had an understanding of English before they could be admitted to an English school.
The legislation came under attack from both sides of the language divide. The English community resented having to put their kids through tests to get into an English school. Critics on the French side said the legislation didn’t do enough to protect the language.
Language played a major role in the defeat of Bourassa’s Liberals in 1976 and the election of Quebec’s first separatist government. In the summer of 1977, the Parti Québécois government, under the leadership of René Lévesque, passed Bill 101 – the Charter of the French Language.
Within that bill was the declaration that French was to be the only language allowed on commercial signs in the province. With few exceptions, the use of English was banned.
On the education front, English was to be restricted mostly to those already in the system, their siblings, those temporarily posted in Quebec, or children whose parents had received an English elementary education in the province. (Eventually that regulation was relaxed to allow children of people educated in English in Canada access to English schools.)
Many retailers were upset by the new law. Morton Brownstein, owner of a Montreal shoe store, took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1988, the court said that English could not be prohibited altogether, but that requiring the predominance of French on commercial signs was a reasonable limit on freedom of expression.
The public reaction in Quebec was swift and forceful. Confronted with the angry demonstrations of those defending Bill 101, Robert Bourassa – back from the political wasteland for his second tour as premier by then – came up with a compromise. Invoking the "notwithstanding" clause to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Bourassa introduced Bill 178. It decreed that only French could be used on exterior signs while English would be allowed inside commercial establishments.
But in the provincial election of 1989, four members of the new English rights Equality party were elected to the National Assembly. And in 1993, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Quebec’s sign laws broke an international covenant on civil and political rights. "A State may choose one or more official languages," the committee wrote, "but it may not exclude outside the spheres of public life, the freedom to express oneself in a certain language."
Reacting to these events, Bourassa, in 1993, introduced Bill 86, which allowed English on outdoor commercial signs only if the French lettering was at least twice as large as the English.
Under the new law, Gwen Simpson and Wally Hoffman, owners of a small antique store near Montreal called "The Lyon and the Wallrus," faced a $500 fine because the English and French on their sign were the same size. They contested the fine.
The Quebec court ruling in 1999 said the province can’t continue to impose restrictions on the use of languages other than French on commercial signs unless it can prove the fragility of the French language in Quebec society. But the Quebec Superior Count overturned that decision in April 2000, citing Quebec’s unique geographical situation as an enclave of French speakers on an English-speaking continent.
The owners of "The Lyon and the Wallrus" (La lionne et le morse) appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada – but it refused to hear the appeal.
There have been other court challenges as well – especially when it comes to education. On March 31, 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on three of them, opening the door to some changes in Quebec’s language laws while preserving the province’s right to protect French.
One of the cases was filed by French-speaking parents who wanted the right to enrol their children in English schools. The court ruled that legislation preventing French-speaking Quebecers from placing their children in English schools was reasonable. It said that linguistic majorities have no constitutional right to receive education in the minority language.
The language of instruction clause is considered the cornerstone of Bill 101, which has also been the source of some of the bitterest debates in Quebec politics for decades.
Many had expected Quebec Premier Jean Charest to invoke the notwithstanding clause to maintain the status quo. But because the court ruling did not strike down the legislation, he won’t have to.
But the rulings do require that the government make some changes in the legislation to comply with the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court laid down new legal criteria that could make it easier for immigrants and native-born Canadians to gain access to English schools – as long as they have had some education in English.
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