Spencer Colby The Canadian Press Marc Miller, during question period in the House of Commons, Thursday
After having repeatedly refused this week to recognize the decline of French in Quebec by preferring speaking about a “threatened” language, Minister Marc Miller is now taking the plunge, however wanting to “add nuance” to his government’s position.
“I do not deny at all when we talk about the decline of French as a mother tongue,” he declared Thursday evening in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Moreover, according to him, the Having learned French during early childhood is “the main indicator that is raised” when the Liberals shout from the rooftops that they are “the first government” to recognize the decline of French in Quebec.
Mr. Miller, who is Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and who represents a riding in downtown Montreal, also protested that the Bloc Québécois cited this “famous statistic” “excessively” on the mother tongue which, he says, does not paint a “reliable portrait of Quebec today.”
Called to react, the Bloc spokesperson for official languages, Mario Beaulieu, said he noted that “naturalness is coming back at a gallop” while “the tendency to deny the decline of French” is “still very present” in the minister's comments.
“It's as if he's saying, 'Ah well, I recognize the decline in an indicator that I don't find important,'” Mr. Beaulieu said in an interview.
Minister Miller also affirmed that he felt “excluded” by the data on the mother tongue, just like, he listed, his fellow ministers Pablo Rodriguez and Soraya Martinez Ferrada.
“It affects me personally,” he said. It [also] eliminates a whole class of immigrant Quebecers who do not speak French at home, but who speak French. »
According to him, the Bloc leads “people to question whether or not I am a proud Quebecois”, so much so that he wonders “at what point am I a Quebecois in full and due form according to Mario Beaulieu.”
These comments are “deplorable”, reacts Mr. Beaulieu, scandalized that he is being made to say “things that have not been said” and that he is being criticized on this basis. “People of all languages are Quebecers, all those who live in the territory are Quebecers,” he insisted.
The minister also cannot digest that the Bloc has described it as “ West Island Story” the reluctance of certain English-speaking liberals, himself included, regarding the reform of the Official Languages Act at the start of the year. “I’m not even from the West Island,” he said.
To this, Mr. Beaulieu responds that “it was a figure of speech” to encompass MPs from the “central-west” of the island who were trying to “raise a movement” against their own party’s bill.< /p>
The buffet of statistics
Thus, Minister Miller, who “refuses the dumbing down of the debate”, prefers the statistic that “94%” of Quebecers can speak French and judges that “we must also talk about the number of people in absolute terms” given that this figure is increasing in Quebec.
“It is to the honor of the Charter of the French language,” he insisted. This is obviously an increase since the Quiet Revolution. »
However, the latest census once again confirms the decline of French in Quebec through all its indicators.
From 2016 to 2021, Statistics Canada observed a decline in the proportion of Quebecers who had French as their mother tongue (from 77.1% to 74.8%), as the language spoken predominantly at home (from 79.0% to 77.5%) and as their first official language spoken (from 83.7% to 82.2%).
This decrease is also observed in Mr. Miller's statistics since the proportion of Quebecers able to carry on a conversation in French increased during the same period from 94.5% to 93.7%, although it was stable for several decades after experiencing a sharp decline in the 1970s.
As for the language most often used in the workplace, French increased from 79.9% to 79.7%. The difference is even more marked in comparison with the 2011 census where French received 81.9%.
Sociologist Jean-Pierre Corbeil and demographer Marc Termote, respectively professors at Laval University and at the University of Montreal, both indicated in interviews with the newspaper Le Devoir that data on mother tongue loses its relevance over time due to the influence of immigration to country.
If Mr. Termote judged that the language spoken at home is “an essential indicator”, the two experts were divided on the indicator of knowledge of French.
Mr. Miller acknowledged that English is not threatened in Quebec and even believes that “it would be imbecile to say so.” He noted, however, that English as a mother tongue is in decline in the province. “It’s weird when you take this logic and then apply it to what Mr. Beaulieu was saying,” he said.
The controversy over the recognition of the decline of French in Quebec flared up again on Wednesday evening when Mr. Miller insisted, during testimony before a parliamentary committee, on repeating that French was “threatened” in the province, responding to the questions from the Conservative and then Bloc spokespersons on official languages.
The next day, during question period in the House of Commons, the Bloc made a mockery of the minister's reluctance. “You would have thought James Bond was being tortured and refusing to spill the beans,” illustrated his parliamentary leader, Alain Therrien.
Mr. Miller was until now the only minister to refuse to recognize the decline of French in Quebec, but other elected officials from the Liberal Party of Canada have done the same in the past.
This had forced the MP of Saint-Laurent, Emmanuella Lambropoulos, to resign from the official languages committee. And very recently, the MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, Anna Gainey, refused to move forward in this area despite the insistence of journalists.