My answer to Jack Jedwab’s Saturday Open letter. Published this Tuesday in The Gazette.
Thanks for your open letter to me published in Saturday’s Gazette (Opinion, “Lisée will need to empathize,” by Jack Jedwab). In your letter, you urge me to try to put myself in the place of an anglophone in Quebec. It’s a message in keeping with the one that I personally have been trying to convey to both anglophone and francophone audiences: to try to put yourself in the other’s shoes. Let’s all try to think outside the box.
In your letter, you state: “It would have been helpful had you shared your winning conditions with us much earlier.” Let’s see. I started on this line of thinking back in 1996, while writing former premier Lucien Bouchard’s Centaur speech. That’s when I introduced the notion of the “double insecurity” of anglos and francos. I then fleshed it out and described it in full in my 2000 book Sortie de secours(1), and restated these views in 2001 in my brief and testimony to the Larose commission on the future of the French language.
I came back to them in the second chapter of my 2007 book Nous(2), and touched on the issue a few times on my blog between 2009 and 2012 (and got real heat for it in some nationalist circles). I explained it again in a text in The Gazette last March (answering your op-ed), repeated it in an interview with Bernie Saint-Laurent at the CBC in May, then just after announcing my candidacy in Rosemont in a Homerun Interview, and again late in the campaign at CJAD.
So, Jack, when you surmise that I “didn’t want to share the secret” of my views before the recent election campaign, you make the case that I am very bad at keeping secrets.
I see my primary task in the new Marois government as one of changing the tone of the debate and opening minds. This past Thursday on the much-watched TVA noon telecast, I explained in French that francophones needed to understand anglos’ linguistic insecurity — and that they should be prepared to accept measures to allay these insecurities.
By the same token, I’m trying to convince non-francophones that the minoritization of people whose primary language is French on the island of Montreal is not healthy for the linguistic security of French.
Preventive measures, aimed at the future, are in order. It means encouraging families to remain on the island, and being more mindful of French as a first language (not as a mother tongue, but as a first language of use) when selecting new, otherwise qualified, immigrants. We’ve just learned that the federal government now wants to make prior knowledge of French or English a much stricter requirement for Canadian citizenship. I applaud this measure.
In the interest of fact-based policy-making, dear Jack, you raise two issues.
First, you state that “no one has really offered a persuasive case for why a francophone living in Beaconsfield has more influence on the language(s) used by a non-francophone on the island of Montreal than does a francophone living in Longueuil.”
No one? Well, I know of someone. You yourself, dear Jack, in the late 1990s, made the case that although knowledge of a second language is a good thing, it is the first language predominantly in use in a specific area that drives integration. You compared the case of Hispanics living in Kirkland (where the predominant language is English) and in Montréal Nord (predominant language French), and found 90 per cent of Hispanics having ceased to speak Spanish at home in Kirkland switched to English, whereas in Montréal Nord, the majority switched to French, with less than 10 per cent switching to English.
That’s the whole point.
The smaller the proportion of people who actually live in French, or in English, the smaller is the ability of these communities to integrate allophones. Elsewhere in Canada and in the United States, the ultimate switch to English is close to 100 per cent. Here, a proportion that would reproduce, generation after generation, the linguistic security of francos and anglos should be around 85 per cent/15 per cent. It is actually 51 per cent/49 per cent. We are way off the mark.
Now, dear Jack, you make an excellent second point about geography.
Why frame language concerns in sole terms of the island of Montreal, when Longueuil is only a bridge away? The reason is that the decline of French as a first spoken language is a reality in the entire metropolitan area, not just the island. One could try to set out to draw all sorts of lines, and determine areas of greater concern. That would be a very difficult exercise, though, surely bound for failure.
Geography gave us an island. We inhabit it. The measures we propose to retain young families on the island will benefit all families, of all language groups. Demographic data show us that the end result will be favourable to French, without being unfavourable to any person or group. We are working on future trends, not past or present individual choices.
You ask me to put myself in an anglo’s shoes. I’m trying, Jack. I don’t think you can find another sovereigntist who’s put more intellectual effort into that task. And not many francophones on the whole have, either.
In an anglo’s shoes, I can see that the first reaction to any reinforcement of Bill 101 is negative, whatever the proposal. I can feel that, as you put it so well, “the persistent insecurity of francophones has made it difficult for many to validate the significant efforts and progress that have been made by anglophones and allophones with respect to the French language.”
I feel it is my job to promote validation of these efforts in the francophone community. And, by the way, I never, as you state, “concluded that young anglophones were particularly hostile to the French language.” The word hostile has never crossed my mind, or pen. I have written that they speak French, know French and are hooked up with French lovers more than at any time in our history. And I have added that, paradoxically, they had «rien à cirer» (couldn’t care less) about the collective future of French. Not caring for the future of something and being hostile to it are quite different things. I’m sure you know that.
But this other-person’s-shoe thing has to work both ways. That’s the tougher part. I tell my French audiences that if the anglo community were to shrink to the point of losing critical mass — i.e., if the proportion of people who actually live in English were to drop, remedial measures would be in order. The fact that so many francophones speak English as a second language could not compensate for such a drop. My English isn’t too bad. But am I part of the English-speaking community? You know the answer.
Shoe-sharing is an excellent strategy for greater understanding, respect, and reciprocal empathy. Let’s work on that.
Thanks for the letter Jack, and all the best to the whole family.
1. See pages 166 and ss « At last, linguistic ‘equilibrium’ ? », and 233 and ss, « Anglo-arabes : Let’s integrate and act on their worries »
2. « Nous and the other Nous : for a sustainable linguistic peace »