Friday, August 12, 2022

Why do Immigrants Come to Quebec?

 A few things to clarify:

  • I don't want this to be racist or anti-French
  • I grew up in Montreal Quebec, left in 1984 at age 27, but have visited family in Montreal regularly since then
English Canadians wonder why immigrants who don't speak French come to Quebec, particularly Montreal?  This is my thinking.

In the early 60s, French and English were widely accepted in Quebec and many businesses operated almost exclusively in English.  If you spoke English, you did not need to learn French, although most English had some French proficiency.  Many English Canadians English immigrants moved to Quebec and the percentage of English was about 13%.

In the 1970s, the Quebec government took steps to strengthen French and weaken English.  All signs must be in French, all professionals (lawyers, accountants..) must pass a French test, all immigrants must attend French schools, all large businesses must do business in French and were inspected, and a few other laws.  This upset the English Quebeckers and recent immigrants and many businesses and people decided that it was better to move to English Canada. Population of Montreal declined, house prices plummeted in English areas, and employment decreased, although there were other reasons for unemployment.

Today, you must know French to function in Quebec.  Unilingual English Quebeckers are generally the old, the disabled, and a few others who could not or would not learn French.  It is almost impossible to get a job, go to school, go to the store, or live without a good knowledge of French.  Only 8% of bilingual Quebeckers list their first language as English.

Immigrants to Canada can choose where to live, and the majority prefer large English cities like Toronto and Vancouver, due to their knowledge of English and the economic opportunities.  Montreal and other Quebec cities also have opportunities and I notice that large numbers of non-French speaking immigrants are moving to Montreal.  Why?
  1. Quebec and Montreal in particular are great places to live, with beautiful scenery, good schools and Universities, employment opportunities, and vibrant culture.
  2. Until recently, the cost of housing was much lower in general.
  3. Many immigrants come from countries with some degree of oppression: China, Pakistan, Iran..  If you come from countries like this, you would view the French language laws as pretty mild compared to your home country.  You would also know how to cope with more oppressive laws so finding a way to get along in Quebec would be easy.
  4. Immigrants usually have a mother tongue (arabic..) and have some English.  Given that you already speak two languages, a third, French, is not a big deal.
  5. Quebec society outside Montreal is still a little less accepting of immigrants than the rest of Canada, but that is changing for the better.  Quebec offers free language lessons and many other services to help immigrants.