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Canada Quebec plans ‘robust reform’ to halt decline of French in Montreal

 French language teacher Francois Marien conducts a class in Montreal, Friday, October 19, 2012.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government says it is preparing a "robust reform" to stop the decline of the French language in Montreal in response to an "alarming trend" reported in the 2011 census released by Statistics Canada.

The 2011 census showed that the number of francophones leaving Montreal continued to increase. And while the census numbers released on Wednesday showed that the use of French in immigrant households was increasing there were growing signs that the knowledge of English was still being demanded in the workplace requiring newcomers to eventually embrace English rather than French, according to the Quebec government.

The Minister responsible for the French Language Charter, Diane De Courcy, raised concerns about the increasing use of English in everyday life and said that major changes to the current language law was needed to protect the French language and French identity. She refused to announce any specific measures now. Part of the reform will be introduced in a Bill that will be tabled when the National Assembly resumes sitting next week.

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"It is quite disconcerting to see that a great number of French-speaking immigrants have to take English courses to get a job. That isn't in the (census) statistics but it is a concern that we have," Ms. De Courcy said. "One thing is certain is that the federal statistics reveal unequivocally, without any ambiguity that we must act."

Statistics Canada figures showed that the number of people speaking only French in Montreal households dropped from 46-per cent in 2001 to 39-per cent in 2011. There was a similar trend with respect the use of English in the rest of Canada.

"But what differentiates us from Canadians is that in our case we need the protection of our language and identity which becomes quite worrisome when there is a decline," she said.

Ms. De Courcy added that Premier Pauline Marois will outline a timetable for when the measures will be introduced in the inaugural speech next week marking the opening of the fall session.

"Everything is being reviewed. I have no taboos," the Minister said. "When you decide to review a Charter as important as this one, you have to review it in its entirety and with great delicacy and serenity."

The census didn't track the use of French in the workplace but Quebec said it will release studies this fall that may recommend tougher measures for employers. The Minister said she wasn't ready to crack-down on businesses that required their employees to speak both French and English in the workplace as part of their hiring practices. Ms. De Courcy said she will wait to complete the studies on the impact of bilingualism in the workplace before deciding what to do.

Another dilemma facing the government is finding ways to encourage young French-speaking families to live in Montreal rather than move to the suburbs. The Parti Québécois government said it is examining ways to reverse the trend but the solutions aren't easy.

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One possibility would be to adopt fiscal measures to help young families gain access to affordable housing in the city or encourage developers to build dwellings more suitable to young families. The program would be made available to all Quebecers but it is believed that mostly French-speaking suburban families would take advantage of the measures.

"The need for Montreal to become majority francophone is a legitimate national objective. This is being said for the first time. We want it and we will work to achieve it," said the Minister responsible for Montreal Jean-François Lisée.

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