Survey raises concerns about anglophone-francophone relations
Preliminary results from a provincewide study suggest that English-speaking Quebecers and their francophone counterparts share a surprising amount of common ground on a range of provincewide hot-button issues. However, they also indicate that recent efforts by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government to shore up language rights may be opening old wounds.
Partial data from the study, produced by Westmount-based Avenue Strategic Communications, was presented in late June at a Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) conference. Avenue partner Jonathan Goldbloom said he expects the full study to be available later this year.
The study, weighted by language, region, age and gender to be reflective of the Quebec population, found, as have similar studies, that French speakers in Quebec tend to identify more strongly as Quebecers and as francophones than as Canadians, while anglophones and allophones feel most attached to their Canadian identity. However, it also found that 51 per cent of anglophones and 32 per cent of francophones had “high levels of intergroup contact” with the other language group, and only 24 per cent of francophones and eight per cent of anglophones had low levels of intergroup contact, suggesting the barrier between the “two solitudes” might not be as hermetically sealed as is commonly believed. Sixty-five per cent of francophones said they generally had a “favourable opinion” of the province’s English-speaking community, and 62 per cent of anglophones said they had a favourable opinion of their francophone neighbours.
The study also indicated that for francophones and anglophones alike, health care, vaccination, the post-pandemic economic recovery and the fight against climate change were significantly more important than language legislation.
Respondents were asked what they thought the other group’s highest priorities were. “Protecting and supporting the French language and other linguistic minorities are low priorities for both groups,” Goldbloom observed.
“Francophones overestimated to what extent anglophones would be focused on protect- ing minority language rights in Quebec, and [anglophones] were extremely likely to overestimate the importance of protecting and supporting the French language for francophones.” Both groups, he said, underestimate the importance of their own priorities for the other group.
Reopening old wounds
However, nearly half of anglophones surveyed said they believed the government was not creating, and did not want to create, conditions that supported positive anglophone-francophone relations. Sixty-five per cent of anglophones surveyed said they believed their community was “being forced out of Quebec,” while only 14 per cent of francophones said that was the case.
At the time the survey was conducted, in mid-June, many people had not yet formed an opinion on Bill 96, the Legault government’s controversial proposed language legislation; two-thirds of all respondents were unfamiliar with the proposed reforms. Among those who ventured a comment, English speakers “generally [felt] that the [bill] will undermine their rights and goes too far to protect French,” Goldbloom said. French speakers were “unsure how it will impact anglophones, but many feel it is appropriate.”
French speakers broadly supported the measures proposed in Bill 96, although nearly 40 per cent were opposed to restricting enrolment in English-language CEGEPs, and the same number were skeptical of the government’s use of the notwithstanding clause. English speakers broadly opposed the measures, and expressed fears that they would lead to an exodus of anglophone families and businesses from the province, worsening intercommunity relations and negative consequences for the economy.
“All groups would say that right now, we have bigger fish to fry than Bill 96,” Goldbloom concluded. “Familiarity with and prioritization of this project are both relatively low… and anglophones and francophones in Quebec have more in common than they realize.”