On the Future of the French Language in Quebec

Alexandre Deschênes —

In doing door-to-door work, a woman who works in the literary field raised the issue that the French language is in decline, that English is gaining ground, even in Gatineau, and that she fears that French will one day disappear. She wondered how the future of the French language could be ensured.

The Patriots of 1837-1838, in their fight against the British Empire, laid the foundations of what has today become the Quebec nation. This was done within a spirit of Republicanism, uniting the progressive forces irrespective of their mother tongue or ethnicity. That was why they were able to stand up to the most powerful empire of the period for two years. That spirit of rejecting division is found in Lower Canada’s Declaration of Independence, authored by the Provisional Government of 1838. In fact, a section in the declaration recognized both French and English as the common languages.

Of course, times have since changed. French is now recognized as Quebec’s only official language. So why this continued sense of threat? Because English is gaining ground? Or is it because the people have no decision-making power over their own affairs? Is it the protection of language that guarantees the nation’s sovereignty and future or is it the sovereignty of the nation that will protect the future of the French language in Quebec? The answer is obvious.

Isolating or singling out a minority, whichever it may be, will neither strengthen the national language nor allow it to flourish. It will only weaken it further. Nor will it bring us closer to our collective sovereignty. The cuts have even undermined the Office québécois de la langue française, in addition to the damage done to all the institutions and programs that promote the interests of the people. This is not the fault of anglophones or immigrants!

The « Them and Us » divide does not serve the Quebec people. It only serves the rich and the pursuit of their profits — the accumulation of wealth by a handful of individuals.

The giving, borrowing and sharing between all those who have populated the territory continues to enrich the diverse Quebec French language of today. A living language is one that evolves and adapts. Just think of those words from our First Nations brothers and sisters that enhance our language.

Thus, the threat to the French language comes neither from immigration, nor the anglophone minority in Quebec. Far from it. The fight over the maximum number of immigrants the parties in power are embroiled in is ridiculous, as is blaming the anglophones for our problems. Isolating them short circuits the discussion required for the language’s survival.

No, the danger lies elsewhere. It lies in the commodification of everything within the grasp of the modern Croesus. We must reject the standardization of a class culture that does not have the interests of the people at heart.

The danger is amongst the financial oligarchs and their henchmen, the Liberals and now their flavour of the day, the CAQ, along with chauvinists of all kinds who think that they will benefit from the division of the people, that we find the criminals. It is they who are preventing us from moving towards a society where the people are placed at centre stage of the decision-making process. And a people who decides its future does not disappear. Nor does its common language.

Alexandre Deschênes is the PMLQ candidate in Gatineau.