By Tim Belford
If you listened carefully this week you would have heard another nail being hammered into the linguistic coffin.
The MRC Coaticook announced that it would no longer be offering services in English as per the regulations following Bill 96. Their hands were tied. How this will affect that hot bed of English language usage remains to be seen but it will obviously go a long way in protecting the French language from further erosion.
This all comes shortly after the Sherbrooke City Council wisely chose to maintain Lennoxville’s bilingual status, recognizing that the use of English is not a threat but an asset when it comes to everything from tourism to attracting outside businesses. The motion was required by the provincial government since, according to the last census, Lennoxville has fallen just below the fifty per cent mark as to its English-mother tongue population.
The use of census data to calculate English-speaking numbers, however, is itself misleading since it does not count the student population as citizens; this, despite the fact that most of the students are here eight months of the year for three, four or even more years. At the same time, non-students can, and many do, spend up to six months of the year outside of the country enjoying the warmth of Florida, Arizona or other sunny destinations without losing their resident status.
These students not only live here but they utilize city services, rent apartments, buy food, eat at restaurants and take part in the social life of the borough just like every other resident. More importantly, if they were included in the calculation, the Lennoxille Borough would likely be well over the fifty percent cut off.
As the Sherbrooke council recognized, the ten or so percent of the population that speaks English on a regular basis poses no threat to the French-speaking majority. On the other hand, it means a great deal to Anglophones.
Lennoxville has an English-language University an English-language CEGEP, English-language public and high schools, five English-language churches and a library. It has the last large English-language venue, outside of the university, for dances, wedding receptions, meetings, funeral receptions and music in the form of the Army Navy Air Force veterans club, and dozens of bilingual businesses. In short, it is the last major centre of English-language culture, education and social activity east of Lake Memphremagog.
Surely, in assessing ‘bilingual status,’ there are more considerations than brute numbers. The everyday life of the Borough is carried out bilingually with English and French speaking citizens treated with, for the most part, fairness and equality.
Five years from now when Bill 96 demands another head count and another affirmation of bilingual status how many more communities across the province will go the way of Coaticook?
Perhaps it’s time the English-speaking community finally got up on its hind legs and said, Enough! If the half million or more ‘English-mother tongue’ Quebecers hit the streets maybe even the government would listen.