Last month we blogged here at Demography is Destiny about the latest census figures from Canada. These figures showed that the population of Canada had grown by 5.9% over the past five years and that that growth was, in large part, driven by immigration. While Canada as a whole is growing, it does not seem as if the news is that good for the demographic future of French Canadians. According to David Frum, writing in the Huffington Post,
“[i]n English, the census tells a story of growth and prosperity. In French, the census announces the decline of Quebec’s standing in Confederation — and of the French language’s place in North America.”
In both 2001 and 2006 the Canadian cenuses showed declines in the proportion of the population that claimed French as a “mother tongue”. By 2006, that number was barely 20%. Frum predicts that once the data on language is released (on October 24, 2012) the 2011 census will show “another and probably even sharper drop”. Based on the information already released we can see that the population of Quebec as a proportion of Canada’s total population declined between 2006 and 2011 (from 23.8% to 23.6%). Frum guesses that French language speakers will make up the greatest part of this decline. Furthermore, there was a net out-migration of 50,000 Québécoise between 2006 and 2011, many of them French-speakers. While French speakers in other parts of Canada still count as French speakers for census purposes, it is unlikely that they will be using French at work and if he or she marries a non-French speaker, it is also unlikely that their children and grandchildren will put French as their “mother-tongue” in future censuses.
This does not mean, however, that French will be overtaken by any one single language as the second language of Canada. What it does mean ois that English’s predominance will continue to grow and that “Quebec’s clout in Canada is bound to dwindle even further”. Importantly, even if only symbolically, the four westernmost provinces (British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) have for the first time exceeded the population of Quebec and Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador). While the federal civil service may still require French for promotion to its higher echelons, will this continue if the number of Canadians claiming it as a “mother-tongue” declines further? Will future generations of Canadians continue to view a Government’s parliamentary majority as “vaguely improper” without French Quebec representation? If the decline continues, how will French Canadians react? Will demographic change spur more strident calls for independence?
This may be taken as conjecture until the details are known later on this year, but the preliminary data released from the census does show a shift in the population concentration of Canada – a shift to the West. This shift in demographics will shape the future of Canada – how it is seen, how it sees itself and what priorities it fixes in governing itself over the coming years. So you Canadian readers out there, what’s your take on this?