Building a new Quebec

December 5th, 2017

In a speech this past summer, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard appealed to English speakers who had left the province to return, saying Quebec needed them.

“We need you for a better future for all Quebecers,” he said. “This is the moment to come back and build Quebec, the new Quebec with us.”

The speech and a series of other anglo-friendly initiatives introduced by Couillard’s Liberal Party in recent months were clear efforts to repair the damage caused by a series of controversial health and education-system policies that were widely seen as assaults on anglophone rights.  With a general election coming in 2018, the Liberals are desperate to make friends again with the anglophone voters who were vital to their victory in 2014. But it might be too little, too late.

Anglophone Quebecers have a long history of voting Liberal, largely as a bulwark against francophone nationalist forces in the province, but many suspect they could turn their resentment into votes for the Liberals’ chief opponent in next year’s general election, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).

Around the same time as Couillard’s speech in August, new census data came out showing that the number of anglophones in the province continues to dwindle. According to the data, the number of Quebec residents who claim English as their mother tongue has now dropped by more than 40 per cent since the 1970s, when bitter language tensions and the rise of the francophone nationalist Parti Québécois sparked an exodus of English speakers to other provinces.

In the 30 years between 1976 and 2006, Quebec lost 307,000 more anglophones to other provinces than it gained. The new census data reveals that this trend continued between 2011 and 2016, with Quebec suffering a net loss of 10,175 anglophone residents.

Now Philippe Couillard wants to get them back.

One daring way either the Liberals or the CAQ could convince anglophones that they’re serious about wanting them to contribute to the building of a new Quebec would be to allow for the increase of English-speaking economic immigrants to the province.

There are certainly many skilled and talented Americans who are starting to look more seriously  at Canada as an escape from the divisive and dangerous politics of their current government. Permitting a limited number of anglophone economic immigrants to come to Quebec would be a welcome signal to English speakers that a new Quebec truly is in the making. It would also prove to the world that Quebec’s francophone majority has the self-confidence to welcome all with open arms.

Some might call this political suicide in a province where the supremacy of French is enshrined in law and merely greeting a customer with “Hi” in a Montreal shop can cause offense. But Quebec has everything to gain from welcoming more anglophone economic immigrants, and benefitting from the talents they would bring.

Whether it’s the Liberals who make this daring, high-wire move, or the Coalition Avenir Québec, the political gains from doing so could echo well beyond 2018, and well into the future.

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