Support for Canadian Bilingualism on the rise

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Mar 4 13:20:39 UTC 2005

Public support for bilingualism on the rise
By Andrew Parkin, Ph.D.

In her recent annual report, Dyane Adam, Canadas Commissioner of Official
Languages, insists that linguistic duality is a fundamental Canadian
value, and she cites CRIC survey data to support her assertion.

While these recent surveys report on attitudes today, an analysis of
polling since the 1980s paints an even more positive picture showing that
public support for bilingualism is on the rise.

Current attitudes

Both CRICs Portraits of Canada 2001 survey, and its February 2002 survey
on rights and freedoms, confirm high levels of support for official
bilingualism and minority language rights. Among Canadians living outside
of Quebec, 88% support the official languages policy (defined as meaning
that citizens can get services from the federal government in the official
language that they speak).

Eighty one per cent agree that French-speaking families living in their
province should have the right to educate their children in French, and
70% think that it is either important, or somewhat important, to preserve
French and English as the two official languages.

Decline then growth in support

The changes in attitudes over time are equally compelling. The Focus
Canada surveys, conducted by Environics Research, show that support for
bilingualism declined in the late 1980s and early 1990s, amid the
controversy surrounding Quebecs French-only sign law and the
recriminations that followed the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord. Since
then, however, support has gradually increased. Today, it is higher than
it was before the decline of the late 1980s.

Consider the number of anglophone Canadians who say that bilingualism is
important to the Canadian identity. Seven in ten held this view in 1985,
but the figure dropped to 55% in 1991. It has risen by 21 points since
then: it stood at 76% in 2000.

The same pattern holds when anglophone Canadians are asked if they are in
favour of bilingualism for all of Canada. It should be noted that support
for bilingualism, when described in such broad terms, is lower than when
it is described in terms that more accurately reflect the objectives of
the Official Languages Act, or in terms of language and education rights
for official-language minorities. What is important, in terms of support
for bilingualism for all of Canada, is the trend. In 1988, 44% of
anglophones supported bilingualism for all of Canada, but this fell to 32%
in 1991. By 2000, the figure had risen to 47%.

Further confirmation

The same trend is apparent in a third question, which asks whether
Canadians favour bilingualism for their province. In 2000, for the first
time, the number of anglophones favouring bilingualism at the provincial
level hit 50%, up from 33% in 1991.

(While I have highlighted the attitudes of anglophones, the same general
pattern holds in the case of francophones and allophones. It should be
noted that both these groups are more supportive of bilingualism than

Perhaps the best news for supporters of bilingualism is that the policy is
more strongly supported by young people than any other age group  an
indication that it is not only those who came of age during the Trudeau
era who have bought in.

Countering stereotypes

When CRIC presented its own data showing relatively high levels of support
for bilingualism in all regions of the country, some observers expressed
surprise. They had assumed that Westerners, at least, were skeptical of,
if not hostile towards, the official languages policy. This is why public
opinion research is important. It allows Canadians to counter the
stereotypes that they sometimes hold about one another. For instance, the
most recent surveys show that two-thirds of Albertans say that
bilingualism is important to the Canadian identity, and three-quarters
support the official languages policy. Thus, when the Official Languages
Commissioner speaks of linguistic duality as a fundamental Canadian value,
she is indeed speaking of a value shared from coast to coast.

The data presented in this article, unless otherwise noted, are from
Environics Research Group. The data were obtained from the Canadian
Opinion Research Archive at Queens University.

Andrew Parkin is Assistant Director CRIC.


Canadians are becoming more bilingual

In a recent speech to Canadian Parents for French, Intergovernmental
Affairs Minister Stphane Dion cited CRIC research that shows Canadians
support official bilingualism, then provided some figures on how that
support has translated into reality.

He offered the following examples:

today, 24% of young high school graduates, across Canada, know both
official languages, making this the most bilingual generation yet;

today, 19% of young anglophones outside Quebec speak French, compared to
only 8% in 1981;

outside Quebec, between 1981 and 1996, bilingualism increased by 170% in
Prince Edward Island, 167% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 105% in the
Northwest Territories; 100% in Nova Scotia, 88% in Saskatchewan, 82% in
Manitoba, 77% in Yukon, 72% in British Columbia, 70% in Alberta and 69% in
New Brunswick;

in Quebec, the 1996 Census put bilingualism among francophones at 34%.
Among anglophones, it went from 37% in 1971 to 63% in 1996.

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