Immigrants and the French Language
Should immigrants be required to be proficient in the French language in order to run in elections in Quebec?
This is the latest question to be stirring up controversy in the mainly French province. The Parti Quebecois has created a bill which would bar certain immigrants from running in any election for school boards or government provincial and municipal elections. Barred immigrants would be those who fail to speak a sufficient amount of French even after participating in French language training.
News sources report that current Quebec politicians don’t feel that such a ruling should be much of a shock to people. According to CTV news, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois was quoted saying:
“We think that people who don’t know French before they arrive in Quebec have the responsibility to learn. On the other hand, the Quebec government has the responsibility to offer courses.”
(CP Quebec, 2007)
Seems pretty simple right? Come to Quebec, learn French and be given the opportunity to help run a province where French reigns over English in a majority of regions. But, like with any other issue or controversy, there is an opposing side. By some, this bill is being looked at as a violation of a citizen’s rights and as being anti-immigrant. In an interview, Tory leader Peter Van Loan stated:
“It’s heartening to see this bill’s not going to go anywhere. Every Canadian has democratic rights. And those rights — to vote, to run for office — are fundamental. I don’t think those rights can be taken away.” (CP Ottawa, 2007)
Quebec politicians of the Liberal and NDP parties also disagree with this bill hoping it never becomes part of the province’s legislature.
I agree with the idea of having potential politicians learn and speak sufficient French. If a French or English person were to go to another country, Sweden for example, I’m sure they would have to know Swedish in order to be part of the country’s political system. They don’t have to forget their original language; they just need to be able to smoothly communicate with the people they will be working with. You couldn’t go into Germany or Russia and start bossing people around in French or Spanish, a majority wouldn’t understand what you’re saying.
On another note, these days, it is getting more and simpler for immigrants to learn the main language or languages of the region they have immigrated to. In Canada, immigrants are granted a stay with the duration of at least three years which is plenty of time to take on language training and apprenticeships. (Bloemraad, 2007). Plus, in order to gain your permanent citizenship in Canada, you have to do an oral and written test to prove you have learned some French or English, depending on where you are living. Also, the Canadian government often keeps immigration on their list of priorities and tends to create and improve programs to help immigrants become naturalized in the receiving country.
Citizen and Immigration Canada, also known as CIC, has a program called Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada, or LINC, which provides training in the English or French language during the duration of the immigrant’s pre-citizenship stay in the country. If the immigrant so wishes, they can be affiliated with Canada’s Host Program which will pair the immigrant with one or more volunteers who are willing to enhance the learning experience. (Bloemraad, 2007). With school boards, municipal, provincial and the federal government and other resources funding these programs, most of the immigrants involved with the LINC are offered the training without charge. (Schmidt, 2007). Therefore, in my opinion, there is not much of an inconvenience to the immigrant there. We pay taxes, the programs get funded and they get free training.
Also, like I mentioned before, going through this process does not mean they have to give up their language and culture among other things. Canada supports multiculturalism and is known for its overall diversity worldwide. The culture of these immigrants is well supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The DCH has many programs in cities across the country to help preserve the cultures, their languages, their traditions, activities, etc. (Schmidt, 2007). Nationally, events and festivals take place every month promoting these things. Annually, there is a festival right here in Trenton which promotes the Scottish-Irish culture and involves drum and pipe bands, a parade and highland dancing.
So where is the problem? Free training, keep your culture but become able to function in your new society more smoothly than if you did not participate in these government-supported programs. This bill is not anti-immigrant as it allows immigrants to live and function somewhere new. The only inconvenience of immigration I can see is the mere transportation to the receiving country. After that, the government provides assistance.
A functionalism theorist would likely agree with me when I say immigrants who are potential Quebec politicians should speak satisfactory, if not fluent, French. Functionalists believe in well regulated societies where people have things, like beliefs and values, in common. (Kendall, Murray & Linden, 2007, p. 20) They sense that in a culture, being able to communicate effectively with one another is very important. It is through learning the region’s language that immigrants, especially children and youth, learn to fit in with their setting and the people around them. (Kendall, 2007, p. 76) Therefore, in the functionalist’s opinion, being able to speak the same language or languages should be compulsory.
A lack of consensus concerning the tongued languages of Quebec’s candidates and politicians could cause more dispute than it is right now. (Kendall, 2007, p. 89). There is already no lack of conflict in Quebec with separatists attempting to push for making Quebec separate from Canada altogether.
With there being no fixed duration or deadline attached to the voting of accepting or rejecting the bill (CP Quebec, 2007), anything can happen. Let’s just hope the government does not only what is right for the province of Quebec and the people in it but the entire country as well. How Quebec handles immigrants effects society nationally. Hopefully they’ll remember that.