Senator slams francophone ‘cleansing’

Kate Jaimet
The Ottawa Citizen

The assimilation of francophones into Canada’s English majority is a form of cultural
"cleansing," says Senator Jean-Maurice Simard.

As francophone minorities disappear outside Quebec, French and English Canadians will
become more and more isolated from each other, leading to the "balkanization" of
Canada, the New Brunswick senator argues.

"With the current inaction in regards to assimilation, the eventuality is that the
francophone population will be strictly concentrated in Quebec and New Brunswick,
therefore creating poles of cultures in Canada," Mr. Simard said in an interview.

"(This) would mean the deterioration of the fabric which built this nation. é We
could even say it is a form of ‘cleansing.’ "

Francophone assimilation outside Quebec is a well-documented fact. According to the
1996 Statistics Canada census, one million francophones live outside Quebec, but only
650,000 still speak French at home. The other 350,000 have switched to English — an
assimilation rate of 35 per cent.

The assimilation rate stands at 68 per cent in British Columbia and 70 per cent in

Of Alberta’s two million people, a scant 20,000 people speak French at home. In
Newfoundland, only 1,000 people still live their lives in French.

Mr. Simard argues that the federal government is abetting the disappearance of
francophone minorities with its policy of devolving power to the provinces. Provinces take
over responsibilities that were once the domain of the federal government but are not
bound to provide services in both official languages. This, Mr. Simard says, erodes the
support that linguistic minorities once received from government.

Assimilation of francophones is an undeniable fact, agrees Alberta Reform MP Cliff
Breitkreuz, who sat on the House of Commons Joint Standing Committee on Official Languages
for several years. But, Mr. Breitkreuz argues, it’s not something the government should
interfere with.

In Western Canada, he said, francophones are no different from other linguistic
minorities such as Ukrainians, Germans or Poles. Like other minorities, they assimilate
naturally to the English-Canadian culture, and should not be entitled to special rights or
special funding.

"The ‘two founding nations’ notion, I think, is ridiculous," Mr. Breitkreuz
says. "Just because the French were here first after the Indians, and Quebec is a
French-speaking province, that doesn’t mean people across the country should have to learn

Mr. Simard’s sketch of a Canada where francophone communities survive only in Quebec,
New Brunswick and Eastern Ontario is not a horror scenario, but simply a description of
reality, Mr. Breitkreuz believes.

He thinks Canada’s language policy should be changed to conform to that model, and that
the federal government should stop subsidizing francophones outside Quebec and the English
minority inside that province.

"We support the whole concept of territorial bilingualism," he explained.
"Where numbers warrant you can have both languages; other than that we basically
believe: French in Quebec and a few places on either side of Quebec and in our federal
institutions, and the rest of the country is basically English."

In an independent report that he expects to release this fall, Mr. Simard will give a
detailed picture of francophone assimilation across Canada, and make recommendations to
halt its progress. He said he supports recommendations made in previous government
reports, which include: creating a Secretary of State for official languages; protecting
the principle of bilingualism as the federal government transfers services to the
provinces and the private sector; and creating a $60-million fund to support projects in
anglophone and francophone minority communities.

"The incidence of assimilation is much greater than admitted by the federal
government and the Commissioner of Official Languages," he said. "It is a
serious problem. It is being ignored, and it spells disaster."

But Mr. Breitkreuz replies that people would get along better if the government kept
out of language issues.

"Before (former prime minister Pierre) Trudeau brought in the Official Languages
Act in the late ’60s, we had francophones coming from Quebec in our community. We would
call them ‘Frenchy,’ we’d learn a little bit of French, a few words, they’d eventually
learn English and there was absolutely no resentment whatsoever," he said.

"But once you start enacting legislation — and the federal government comes down
with heavy hands and starts handing out money left, right and centre — that doesn’t sit
too well with a lot of Canadians."