Quebec to spend $603M to help French remain vital in the province

French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge says the measures will reverse what he calls the 'decline' of French in Quebec. (Karoline Boucher/The Canadian Press - image credit)
French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge says the measures will reverse what he calls the 'decline' of French in Quebec. (Karoline Boucher/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Quebec will spend $603 million over five years to reverse what the province's French language minister describes as the decline of French.

At a news conference Sunday, French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge said a total of 21 measures — some of which are already in place — would help improve the vitality of Quebec's official language in the coming months.

Roberge added that "in a difficult budgetary context like ours," the funding reflects the government's "great commitment" to the French language.

The sum discussed Sunday is mainly comprised of expenses included in Quebec's 2024-25 budget, such as $320 million allocated over five years to boost the offering of French-language courses — the most costly initiative of the language plan.

The measures are based on nine government priorities, which include monitoring indicators of the linguistic situation in Quebec annually and making a dashboard available to the public.

Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe said Sunday that Quebecers could expect the government to table a bill in the next year to make Quebec French-language content on streaming websites like Netflix and Disney readily discoverable.

He said the government is working with local producers so they could "speak the same language" as the streaming giants and ensure Quebec content properly classified.

Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry said at the news conference that it would take between two to three years to get a picture of the province's linguistic situation based on the government's indicators.

In a statement published Sunday, Déry said the government took "strong action" by raising tuition fees for Canadian out-of-province students attending Quebec English-language universities as part of the government's goal to attract and retain a greater number of French-speaking students and students who come from a culture or region with affinities to French. Also, Quebec is working to speed up the process for international students graduating from French-language programs to obtain permanent residency in the province.

The government says it plans to grow the percentage of people from economic immigration who know French, improve temporary foreign workers' and asylum seekers' knowledge of the language as well as the mastery of French among students and strengthen Quebecers' attachment to French.

Use of French in public spaces stable: Quebec's language watchdog

Despite Roberge saying in a statement Sunday that "all indicators point to an increasingly pronounced decline of French" in Quebec, the use of French in public spaces has remained stable in Quebec since 2007, according to a study by Quebec's language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), published in April.

About 79 per cent of Quebecers in 2022 used French most often in public spaces, the OQLF found.

The study is based on data from a survey of 7,171 Quebecers conducted between March and May 2022 and on focus groups to expand on the survey results.

But the latest plan from the Legault government takes into account five indicators which have had "the greatest impact on the vitality of French in Quebec in recent years," said the French Language Ministry in a news release published Sunday.

They are the growth and linguistic profile of the immigrant population, the prominence of English-language digital platforms, attendance at English-language higher education institutions, the low level of mastery of French among students and how active people are at rallying around the use of French.

Liberal MNA and official opposition critic of education Madwa-Nika Cadet called the plan "disappointing and sorely lacking in ambition and vision," saying it "doesn't bring anything new to the table."

She said the $65-million investment in French-language proficiency in schools is "insufficient."

"The lack of a timetable and targets, as well as the omission of the literacy rate, underline the plan's lack of seriousness," she said.

Cadet also said she was concerned by the failure to address the issue of French proficiency at college level, despite a government-commissioned study.

Québec Solidaire MNA for Mercier Ruba Ghazal said in a statement emailed Sunday that she welcomed the announcement but was disappointed by the lack of structural measures to reinforce French as the language of the workplace, which she says is "the most important indicator that Minister Roberge should follow to measure the vitality of our language."

Ghazal called for the government to set up a mandatory French-language program during work hours.

She said Quebec's Labour Ministry "was not part of Minister Roberge's working group, and it shows."