“Don’t ‘force’ me to love you; let me love you ‘myself’”: A Franco/Québeco-phile repertoire as a response to the counter-discourse (by Mehdi Babaei)

On January 25, 2015, the news was spread through the Québec Immigration Minister announcing that Québec is preparing a major reform of its immigration policy. The news came along after rather shocking news released by The Institut de la statistique du Québec in December 2014, reporting that Québec’s net loss (the net result on interprovincial migration) in 2013 was 13,100 people–– including a large number of skilled immigrant residents–– who chose either Ontario or Alberta for their next immigration destination. Thus what seems to be Québec’s brain drain is Ontario and Alberta’s brain gain.

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In Québec, the French language requirement has always been a major obstacle for many immigrants–– regardless of their skills and education levels. Québec has selected its skilled immigrants through a point system, which takes into account factors including education, work experience, and French language proficiency. However, French has always been a major hurdle to obtain a permanent residency and thereby entering Québec’s job market. As I’m writing this post, the Montreal Gazette has just released yet another news article on the challenges that universities in Québec–– especially McGill and Concordia, the two English universities–– are facing recruiting foreign professors since a French language requirement impedes the process of hiring the talented and highly-skilled individuals. And all this is happening because of Québec’s immigration system, which, as the Gazette says, “puts [these universities] at a disadvantage compared to other Canadian and U.S, institutions.”

This is–– among many other things–– a poignant portrayal of what Québec loses when skilled people move from the La Belle Province as, economically speaking, a huge amount of money has been spent to design and implement policies and programs to facilitate their integration process and make Québec a better place to live. There are several reasons for this mass outmigration of skilled individuals including Québec’s strict language policies (such as language police at schools and businesses), lack of job opportunities, high taxes, and an attempt made to implement the Québec Charter of Values by the PQ (Le Parti Québécois) government.

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Irrespective of the perspectives taken by the province on their new immigration policy, an emphasis on French proficiency is still an important determinant of selecting new immigrants and accelerating their integration process through its Francisation program–– as indicated by the Immigration Minister, Kathleen Weil.

To me, the problem, in fact, begins with the term Francisation itself (with Francise as the root and –ation as the suffix). The definition given by The Oxford Dictionary for Francisation is “In Québec cause (a person or business) to adopt French as an official or working language.” Dictioray.com offers an even stricter definition: “to force to adopt French customs and the French language.” Thus, Francisation–– in its most basic sense–– denotes forcing someone to learn French and to be French. But why have Québec’s policy makers come to a point that forcing to become French is the solution and what have they gained out of this philosophy?

Human beings do not stand for limitations and generate–– as in Michel Foucault’s words–– a counter-discourse (a way of thinking that opposes an institutionalized discourse), where there is an institutionalized discourse. This counter-discourse in the case of Québec has manifested itself as the departure of its brains, and/or a rise in the use of mother tongues among its residents––at least in the city of Montreal. Thus, why not draw on immigrants’ multilingual competences and their multilingual repertoires, instead of overlooking them? Why not provide them with decent jobs first––according to their skills and talents­­–– and then create an environment in which French, this beautiful language, is learnt through conciliatory efforts of creating a gentle, more supportive, and friendlier environment?

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Whatever the reason for immigration might be, the process itself entails numerous challenges. Immigrants are often placed in a situation in the host society, where constructing new identities comes to the fore, with the aim of creating stability and balance in their life. A stable life, however, requires having a decent job, which in Québec is often sequel to fair, if not high, French language proficiency. Thus, acquiring more education, making new connections, or even learning new skills by immigrants, are all for the purpose of finding a job as this is the start of a stable life in the new society. As inferred from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, basic needs must be fulfilled before one makes an attempt to acquire and develop higher-order thinking skills. Additional language learning, if not a higher-order thinking skill for some, is for sure an excruciating activity for many people, especially immigrants due to the fragile life status in the first years of arrival.

Instead of forcing these people with their multilingual, multicultural repertoires to adopt a French language and culture, a situation can be created for them to become a Franco/Québeco-phile and develop a Francophile repertoire as response to the emerged and still emerging counter-discourse.

*Pictures taken on Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Québec, Summer 2014

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