MONTREAL — An attempt by the Parti Quebecois to raise the alarm about a dramatic increase in English speakers in Quebec was met with skepticism Wednesday amid concerns the party was greasing statistics to suit its political ends.
Pierre Curzi, a PQ member of the legislature, began leaking copies earlier this week of a report compiled by his office that argues English is becoming more appealing than French in the Montreal area.
The report predicts English could become the dominant language in Quebec's largest city by 2016, which Curzi says would have dire implications for French in the province due to Montreal's role as its economic and cultural engine.
"I want to make people aware of the portrait of the situation and to raise a debate about whether to accept this or not," said Curzi, a former actor who may be best known to Canadians for his role in the Oscar-winning film "The Barbarian Invasions."
Curzi's report, which will be made public only later this week, gathers recent Statistics Canada census figures with other data from a series of well-known demographers in the province.
A copy circulating in the media estimates Montreal will only be 43 per cent francophone in six years.
Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre acknowledges there exists an appeal to learning English, but she accused Curzi of stoking alarmism for political ends.
"They're speaking about a document that no one has seen," St-Pierre told Radio Canada. "It lacks seriousness."
One of Quebec's largest anglophone lobby groups said it was bemused by the reported findings of Curzi's study.
The Quebec Community Groups Network cited a number of recent statistics contradicting his prognosis, among them that more than 90 per cent of Montrealers use French regularly at work.
"The problem for us is that you can't separate the statistics from the political purpose behind it," said Robert Donnelly, the network's president.
"The whole point seems to be to stir up the pot."
Curzi's methodology centred on the language spoken at home rather than at work, taken from 2006 census figures. That, according to one Statistics Canada expert, may give an incomplete picture about the state of French in Montreal and the rest of the province.
"It doesn't really look at what's happening out there in the public sphere," said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, chief specialist of language statistics at Statistics Canada.
Corbeil, who had just read media reports about Curzi's findings and not the report itself, added that using only the mother tongue numbers would decrease the relative weight of French speakers.
Given the high numbers of allophones in Montreal who speak French at work or in social settings, this might give the impression French is worse off than it actually is.
Curzi has defended using the mother tongue variable by saying it was less complicated that way.
Corbeil also questioned using Montreal as a microcosm for larger trends in the rest of the province.
The Curzi report points out that more than 47,000 francophones left the island between 2001-2006, compared with only 6,740 anglophones.
"When there are fewer French speakers on the island, that accentuates problems in the public use of French," Curzi said.
But census figures suggest that while francophones may move to such off-island communities as Laval or Longueuil, they still work in the city.
To say the exodus of francophones from Montreal is a harbinger of a decline in French across Quebec is "a really quick conclusion that may skip some important steps," said Corbeil.
And secondly, unless you plan on having all of your business dealt within Quebec and only with other french communities, you'd think increasing the amount of people who speak english would be a good thing.... since everywhere around Quebec, english is spoken the most.
Even so, just because more people might be speaking english more then french, that doesn't mean in anyways, that the French identity is being attacked or will suddenly vanish.
The remaining Acadian community in Nova Scotia seems to be doing quite well for themselves... as do those in New Brunswick who speak french... and none of them have to be so damn anal as those in Quebec seem to be.