How do we define the Canadian Francophonie?

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OTTAWA – Mother tongue, first official language spoken, ability to speak French … What definition should be used when speaking about Francophones from outside Quebec?


“At Statistics Canada, we do not give a single definition of what a francophone is, because there is no consensus,” explains Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Assistant Director, Census of Population Program, Statistics Canada .

For the political scientist of the University of Ottawa Chair in Research on the Francophonie and Public Policy, Linda Cardinal, the choice is political, since the number of francophones is the result of the programs and funding envelopes that will be devoted to them by governments .

“Definition depends on context. For a minority, we will always try to use the most advantageous number. ”

This strategic choice led the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities (FCFA) of Canada to proudly display, following the last census, that 2.7 million people chose French in nine provinces and three territories. A number that corresponds to the number of people who have a knowledge of French.

“By adopting this definition, we encourage those who want to practice their French to do so. It is a more inclusive definition that allows everyone to choose their official language of service and is more in tune with the idea of building a bilingual Canada, “says Jean Johnson, president of the organization.

Internationally, the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) counts Francophones as those who are able to conduct a conversation in French.


622 340 Franco-Ontarians in 2016?

In Ontario, the province adopted an inclusive definition of Francophonie (DIF) in 2009, which was deemed more generous.

According to this definition, French-speakers are defined as “persons whose mother tongue is French, as well as persons whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, but who have a good knowledge of French as a Official language and who use French at home “.

The Assembly of the Francophonie of Ontario (AFO) therefore claims to speak on behalf of 611,500 Franco-Ontarians since 2011. With the 2016 census figures, the organization now represents 622,340 people.

“The definition of Ontario is more comprehensive and more representative of the Francophonie. People in immersion, for example, want to have more opportunities to speak in French and to take pride in themselves, “says AFO President Carol Jolin.


Weaknesses in each definition

Within this range of definitions, none is free from criticism, notes Corbeil.

“In Ontario’s inclusive definition, for example, those who declare French as their mother tongue are counted as Francophones. But in 2011, outside Quebec, it was recorded that 75,000 of these people could no longer support a conversation in French. ”

University of Ottawa political scientist, Linda Cardinal. (Image credit: Patrick Imbeau)

Mother tongue, however, remains a relevant factor in testifying to the vitality of a community, Cardinal argues.

“The work of Rodrigue Landry [researcher at the Université de Moncton] has shown that for a community to continue to exist, it needs native speakers, who are often more likely to request services in French And to have a strong identity and a strong attachment that will ensure the sustainability of their culture. ”

Adopting the OIF definition would lead to forgetting that people who know French do not necessarily feel part of the community, nor participate in its vitality or ask for services in this language, says Corbeil.


Do without numbers?

Until the 1980s, the criterion of mother tongue prevailed in the approach of governments, explains the statistician.

“But as Canadian society became increasingly diverse, language issues had to be added to include international immigration. We have more and more citizens whose language of convergence in Canada is French, but for whom it is not the mother tongue. ”

Today, it is often the first official language spoken that is used to determine the number of Francophones who justify offering services in French across the country.

Bill S-209, led by Senator Claudette Tardif, proposes to use a more inclusive definition at the federal level, based on that adopted by the OIF.

The government of Justin Trudeau announced a revision of the regulations surrounding the Official Languages Act in the fall of 2016, which could lead to changes in the criteria used to offer services in French.

” The supply of services in French should not be mortgaged by numbers. We did not make an Official Languages ​​Act to find all the possible means of not applying it “- Linda Cardinal, political scientist

For Mr. Johnson, it may be time to go beyond the simple criterion of numbers.

“If the government truly believes in the vision of a bilingual Canada, it must invest in the supply of services, regardless of numbers.”

A situation that remains disturbing

One thing is certain, whatever the definition chosen, the weight of Francophones outside Quebec decreased from 2011 to 2016.

Canadians with French as their mother tongue outside Quebec represented 3.5% in 2016, compared to 3.8% in 2011. Based on French as their first official language spoken, the percentage rose from 3.7% to 3.6% five years later.

In Ontario, if we refer to French as the first official language spoken, the percentage rose from 4.2% to 4.1%.

“Whatever the definition, what counts is the demographic weight. And from this point of view, the situation is worrying! “, Acknowledges Jolin.

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