Francophone immigration: if it is a failure in Quebec, what to do in a minority setting?

We have fewer children and only one out of two goes to French school. With early childhood abandonment of the language, we bet on immigration. So what are the results?

Ottawa committed to bringing in 4.4% of French-speaking arrivals outside Quebec. But for the past ten years, the rate has stagnated at 1.5%. And two-thirds of immigrants disappear into three major English-speaking cities: Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

Even Quebec is stalling. A number of immigrants refuse to learn French and circumvent Bill 101 if they do not cross the Ontario border promptly to escape identity tensions. They do not go to New Brunswick where the retention rate would be 11%.

Only 72% of immigrants who arrived between 2005 and 2014 are still in Quebec in 2016, according to the provincial data. The pressure is mounting to reduce the targets, while waiting to find the means to instill French into the arrivals and keep them.

In a minority setting, Ottawa will have spent $60 million on two roadmaps to promote francophone immigration. Numbers climbed from 38,000 in 1991 to 74,000 in 2011, but not the percentage.

One can understand the difficulties facing the new arrivals. They are treated as a commodity and often hosted by institutions and agencies, not by families or groups.

They find themselves in circles charged with the identity of ethnic Canadians, but they do not share the same relationship with French, often their second language. In some homogeneous environments, they are seen as a threat.

They are among us. But there is no welcome registry, no data on the journey of the families nor on the flow of the migrations following the initial reception. We are simply losing track of what we heard in the Senate Committee on Official Languages in recent weeks.

Of the 1.5% welcomed, 70% of whom are in Ontario, a number of newcomers leave the rural setting in search of urban anonymity. We are not going to tell immigrants what to do or where to go; they are free. How many are integrated into the French-speaking community? We do not know.

 We are facing similar challenges living with exogamous couples. Isn’t a non-francophone parent somehow a newcomer of sorts as well?

Our communities are like sieves, let’s admit it. Immigration is not a panacea. Should it remain a priority in the next action plan?

Success stories, however, are numerous and sometimes moving. Economic immigration has been successful in some areas, thanks to a $120-million infusion from Ottawa. Ontario wins the most, due to, in particular, the ability of francophone school boards to seduce parents with unique opportunities for their children.

School management would be the greatest success story of francophone communities, with governance, quality of infrastructure, appropriate pedagogy and the opening of admission policies. Schools have become the ideal tool for integration.

 It is to this success that immigration strategies should first be grafted, starting with young children. Everything happens before going to school, as the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, reminded us recently.

If Ontario succeeded in strengthening its institutional network with an early childhood development system, a model would be in place to revitalize the Canadian francophone community.

 Jean-Pierre Dubé


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