Polls reveal divisions over language rights

Non-francophones hold widely diverging views from French-speaking Quebecers on Bill 96, which aims to reinforce the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101).

A majority of anglophones and allophones also believe the debate over the proposed legislation will strain relations between the majority and minority communities.

That is one of the findings of a new poll conducted by Léger Marketing for the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) and the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS). The poll, conducted online from May 14-19, shows that almost three-quarters of English-speaking Quebecers (73.5 per cent) and two-thirds of allophones (63.5 per cent) believe Bill 96 will worsen relations between English- and French-speaking Quebecers. Two-thirds of French-speaking respondents said they believe relations will stay the same.

Quebecers are also deeply divided on the necessity to use the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Constitution to pre-empt court challenges based on fundamental rights and freedoms. The vast majority of anglophones (89.3 per cent) and allophones (82.3 per cent) do not believe it is necessary for Quebec to invoke the clause. Nearly 40 per cent of francophones say it isn’t necessary.

“There is a reason for optimism here in that common cause could be built around opposition to the use of the notwithstanding clause,” QCGN president Marlene Jennings said. “Quebecers take enormous pride in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the inclusive, open and tolerant society we have built together. When what the Quebec government is proposing becomes more widely understood, my belief is that opposition to the use of the notwithstanding clause will increase.”

More than half of respondents oppose imposition of a quota on the number of Quebecers who can enroll in English-language CEGEPs. Once again, English and French speakers hold divergent views. The vast majority of anglophones (88.1 per cent) and more than two-thirds of allophones disapprove of this measure. More than half of francophones (57 per cent) agree with the plan, which is meant to limit the number of francophone students who can enroll in English junior colleges.

Seven out of 10 English-speaking Quebecers believe English-language institutions are more threatened than ever. A majority of allophones (55.7 per cent) agree. Very few French speakers, just over 12 per cent, concur.

“In the coming weeks and months, and during public hearings expected in the fall, we will continue to ... advocate against the detrimental consequences the measures proposed in this bill would have on our community’s vitality,” Jennings pledged.

A separate survey conducted online from May 21-23 found that a strong majority of Canadians outside Quebec and a significant minority within this province are concerned about the proposed unilateral amendment to the Canadian Constitution affirming that Quebec is a nation and that its official language is French.

The survey shows that fewer than one in five Canadians outside Quebec believe a province should be able to amend the Canadian Constitution on its own. Support is lowest among Albertans, where fewer than 10 per cent agree.

In Quebec, opinions of francophones and non-francophones are widely divergent. Support for a unilateral amendment was much higher among francophones, three-quarters of whom strongly agree (37.9 per cent) or somewhat agree (35.3 per cent). Among non-francophones, only 3.5 per cent strongly agree while 18.6 per cent somewhat agree that a province should be able to amend the Constitution.

“Canadians and Quebecers are clearly divided on this issue, and we need to take the time as a country and as a province to truly understand the implications of what the Quebec government is proposing,” commented Jennings. “Only through knowledge and dialogue will we be able to achieve a mutual understanding of what is really at stake.”