Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Protecting a Language or Limiting a Population?

By Nicole SochaczevskiPublished January 1, 2017

Quebec's Charter of the French Language, better known as Bill 101, forces education in French and impedes employment opportunities for students.

By Niki Sochaczevski  

Newly elected leader of the opposition in Quebec, Jean-Francois Lisée, vowed during his campaign to become premier, that if elected he would strengthen Bill 101.  Bill 101, otherwise known as the Charter of the French Language, designates French as the official language of government and of the courts in the province of Québec and frames other fundamental language rights. The law was introduced in 1977 by Camille Laurin, a senior cabinet minister in the contemporary Parti Québécois government. One aspect of the bill declares that the official language of instruction from kindergarten until high school is French. If Lisée succeeds in making this law stricter, the impact on the education system will make it even harder for Québécois Francophones and Canadian immigrants to find employment.  
The Quebec government initially implemented Bill 101 as part of a movement to protect the French language and culture from being assimilated into the sea of English in North America. This is a noble ideal, but the methodology chosen, especially in regards to the section about education, has produced some unintended side effects.
Bill 101 makes education in French mandatory for all Quebec residents until the end of their secondary studies, whether the students are in a public school or a subsidized private school. The only exception to the law is that people whose parents are Canadian citizens, and attended English school in Canada, can be granted certificates of eligibility to attend English school. Additionally, if the child or his or her sibling has attended a majority or their primary or secondary education in another part of Canada, the child is eligible to learn in an English School. Originally, the exemption was intended only to include children whose parents had been educated in English in Quebec, however, this was amended to include all of Canada after the adoption of Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which outlines educational rights of English minorities in Quebec.
Consequently, though the policy does protect the French language, it also limits the French Canadian and immigrant populations who are forced into an education system with little to no English instruction. The result is that these students are much less likely to be employed both within and outside of Quebec due to an inability to adequately communicate in English.
According to Statistics Canada, the job vacancy rate among Canadian employers in the first quarter of 2016 was 2.1%, a 0.5% decrease from the first quarter of 2015. With fewer jobs available, the competition in the job market has grown drastically and being bilingual is a significant advantage. A 2009 parliamentary committee report noted the federal government of Canada is the largest employer in the country, but that out of almost 180,000 government positions, 72,000 are designated bilingual. In addition, a 2010 study conducted out of the University of Guelph found that men outside Québec who know both French and English earn an average income that is 3.8% higher than those who are unilingual, while bilingual women earn 6.6% more. Suzanne Corneau, the director of an employment services center in Alberta that teaches English and helps French speakers find jobs, says that for French-speaking immigrants seeking employment "the biggest barrier is English." She also explains, "businesses in the construction or oil and gas industry have become more stringent in searching for qualified candidates who speak English, because of accidents on the job."

 The aforementioned statistics prove the harm that Bill 101 is currently causing for the French and immigrant populations of Quebec and hint at the worsened effects of strengthening this law. In order to save this majority of students from facing unemployment, the education policies must be amended to ensure that education curriculums are balanced with sufficient instruction in both languages.

Works Cited