Photo via CTV News
Our government is strange. We can all relate to the complex connotations of a response of “oh my GOD, why?” from a progressive Quebecer to Legault’s latest policy. A mix of fear, anger, confusion, hatred, and exhaustion. It is a seemingly monthly tradition that the CAQ enacts some unfortunate policy: no more religious head coverings for public sector workers, increasing the proportion of french-language CÉGEP courses at the cost of other language courses, replacing high school ethics class with “Culture et Citoyenneté Québécoise,” immigrants being unable to receive government documents in their own language after a period of six months, and, most recently, the increase in tuition for English universities for out-of-province and international students.
This last move has proved particularly inflammatory for both francophone and non-francophone Québecois. Both anglo and franco media outlets have been running bold headlines covering the population’s outrage over how the legislation will massively hurt the economy of Québec (especially of Montréal), reduce the diversity of our cities, ruin the international reputation of universities, and further a dangerous cost-of-living trend in a province that has been known to have amazingly affordable post-secondary education.
All of these claims are well argued and make a lot of sense, so what is the government's counter? Like with all of their other controversial decisions, the CAQ claims the tuition raise will protect the French language.
First, it is not clear whether or not French has actually been on any decline in Québec. The most recent major research on this subject is the 2021 census, which says that between 2016 and 2021 the number of people who speak French at home actually increased, but their proportion within the population decreased (from 79% to 77.5%.) That is certainly not a dismissable amount, but to take it at face value would ignore another important detail of the report. The proportion of people who speak English at home increased by only 0.7%. It is clear that the language demographics of Québec are not undergoing an anglicisation, but a diversification. The other 0.8% of French loss is made up by allophone gain. This idea is affirmed by Éric Caron-Malenfant, who cited “migration factors” (immigration) as the major factor in the increase of allophones and anglophones in our province.
According to the president of the Association for Canadian Studies Dr. Jack Jedwab in an interview with The Gazette, there are also many unscientific aspects to the way Statistics Canada conducts research in Québec. They note how the francophone sections of the census report focuses exclusively on people with French as a mother tongue, while the anglophone half lumps together people with English and English & other languages as a mother tongue. Additionally, much research on anglicisation is conducted on the island of Montréal, which conveniently includes anglophone suburbs 30 kilometers to the West of downtown, but not the predominantly french South Shore only a couple kilometers off the river, or the mostly francophone city of Laval, which has a population comparable to that of Québec city.
So as hard as they try to spin it otherwise, anglophones are not really the issue when it comes to the “safety” of the french langues. The tradition of nationalists identifying as a minority marginalized by anglophones in Canada has long been a part of Québec’s history. One of the most historically significant texts of Québec nationalism is literally called Nègres blancs d'Amérique, written by Pierre Valllières. Although the book presents more of a pro-Marxist argument than anything else, it is not hard to see the inherent problem with Québec; the product of a white supremecist European colonial project built on the land of slaughtered Indigenous people arguing that a socialist revolution would benefit their nation by comparing themselves to literal African slaves.
So back to the tuition hikes. It sucks for everyone. It is a punitive measure: they are not making French universities cheaper, they are making English universities more expensive. But it’s not Québec’s anglophones who’s tuition is going up. Québec is the province, dare I say the nation, in North America with the most affordable (and some of the best) university education on the continent. The people who will be disadvantaged the most by this law will be immigrants, especially BIPOC immigrants.
And isn’t that who the CAQ has always targeted? Banning religious symbols and clothing in the public sector, refusing to provide non-French documents after six months, systemically forcing fewer allophone language courses in CÉGEPs; these are all laws that disadvantage already marginalized, racialized people more than anyone else. As much as they talk about anglicisation, what they call the “decline” of French in Québec is really just the diversification of our province. They are not scared of the French language disappearing, they are scared of other languages existing. Xenophobia is the CAQ’s strategy. Never before has it been clearer than with the tuition hikes that Legault’s nationalism is not one of empowerment for his own people, but of violence towards others.
There is absolutely room for nationalism in Québec. But that has to mean fighting for a better nation, not a privileged one.