Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hall of Mirrors

I heard on the CBC this morning that for the first time since the 1930s, the percentage of mother-tongue francophones in Quebec has dropped below 80%. This is according to the 2006 census. It's true; I just checked the numbers at Statcan and if you don't figure in the 70-some thousand who gave their mother-tongue as French and something else, then the figure comes in at right around 79%. (By the way... according to the same table, the mother-tongue percentage of English speakers right here in Ontario is only 68.4%.)

Naturally, someone in the course of the story cried that this was the signal for independence for Quebec. What isn't? The numbers of francophones are down, so the language and culture are under threat, so Quebec must separate! If the numbers had been up, that would mean Quebec was self-assured and could go it alone, so Quebec must separate! Too much rain? A lot of sunny days? Long hair, going bald, need a boob job? Separate! Blah blah blah. Anything to break the ties to "others" and wallow in the xenophobic Hall of Mirrors they wish Quebec could be.

I don't know what the answer is to the declining numbers of francophones in Canada. Maybe there isn't one. Frankly, I don't think independence is really the answer, because it doesn't change a damn thing about the realities of Quebec, which are: it's embedded in North America, 5.5 million francophones in a sea of 300 million anglophones. Separating from Canada won't change that. The reality is that there are simply more opportunities, in North America and around the world, to live and especially work in English than in French. I would like to see "the French Fact in America", as they've called themselves, continue into the distant future; part of my own roots lie in that soil, and that blood is in my veins too. But sooner or later Quebec's going to have to come to peace with where it is in the world. I'm not saying, by any means, that they ought to abandon French or cease to promote its use at home and in the workplace; I understand the need for that and I support it. But if 500 years from now everyone in Quebec is speaking English, or Mandarin, then so be it. That's how people then will want things; it'll be as natural to them as this is to us. I don't vastly lament the loss of Gaelic in my own heritage... I'm proud to be of that stock, but times moved on, and I have a different set of symbols with which to express myself. If French is meant to survive in North America, it certainly will, because people will use it because they want to use it, they love to use it, and because it makes sense to use it. Not because someone closes the border or sticks a legislative gun in their face.

Quebec, sit back. Love your language. Love your culture. Be who you are, here, now, today, and enjoy it. That's the surest way of all to influence the character of your posterity. Impoverishing them geographically, economically, and symbolically will be doing them no favour at all.

No comments: