The group that represents Quebec English-speaking community groups says it's shocked by and skeptical of new Statistics Canada numbers that show a surge in the number of people who speak English as a mother tongue.
If the latest census figures hold true, then in regional cities where French is predominant — including Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup and Saguenay — the number of people who reported speaking English as a mother tongue has more than doubled since 2011.
In most places, those numbers are still small.
For instance, in Rivière-du-Loup, 135 people reported having English as a mother tongue in 2011. In 2016, that number was 240.
Other cities show larger growth. In Drummondville, 1,460 people reported being anglophones in 2016 — up from 680 in 2011.
All of this is puzzling to the head of an advocacy group for Quebec anglophones, the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN).
"It was a surprise," said Sylvia Martin-Laforge.
She said the QCGN was anticipating very little growth in the number of anglophones and was shocked when the new Statistics Canada numbers showed some communities have hundreds or even thousands more English-speakers than they did in 2011.
"This bowls us over, because that's not what we were expecting," she said.
Increases 'impossible,' says demographer
The QCGN partnered with historian and demographic specialist Jack Jedwab to take a closer look at the figures.
Jedwab compared the number of anglophones to the English school enrollment rates and Quebec immigration rates.
"The increases, I would say, are impossible," said Jedwab. "I don't know where the people are coming from."
He's asked Statistics Canada to take a second look at the figures. In a statement, Statistics Canada said it takes the accuracy of its data seriously and says it will thoroughly re-examine the numbers.
Martin-Laforge said she's been working with her counterparts in the QCGN's regional offices and hasn't heard anything to indicate there's been an influx of anglophones.
"You have to wonder, where are they? Have they gone underground, or what?" asked Martin-Laforge.
Additional funding possible
If the numbers are accurate, it could mean additional funding for health and social services for anglophones in the province.
Still, Martin-Laforge wanted to verify the numbers are correct before lobbying for more funding.
"We believe rigorous numbers lead to rigorous policy," she said.
If Statistics Canada confirms the numbers, then Martin-Laforge says her organization will focus on determining what caused the recent spike.