As Quebec debates a charter that would bar certain religious symbols from the public service, a CBC study has found that Quebec’s most important public institutions are already lagging far behind Ontario’s in openness to linguistic and ethnic minorities.

Bernard Drainville, the Parti Québécois minister responsible for the proposed charter of Quebec values, appeared this weekend on Radio-Canada’s Les Coulisses du Pouvoir to respond to criticisms of Quebec’s record.

“We really have no lessons to learn from the rest of Canada about welcoming or integrating people,” he said.

But a look at the numbers suggests that access to jobs in Quebec’s civil service remains difficult for anglophones and people who belong to what Quebec defines as “cultural communities.”

Charter Values Protest 20130914

Demonstrators protest against Quebec's proposed values charter in Montreal. Members of 'cultural communities' make up 12.3 per cent of Quebec's workforce, but make up just over seven per cent of government employees. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

That category includes not only visible minorities but also white Quebecers whose linguistic background is other than French or English, such as Italian-Canadians or Portuguese-Canadians.

The government of Ontario counts 22 per cent of Ontario’s workforce as members of visible minorities, which make up 20 per cent of the Ontario government’s own workforce, according to the Ministry of Government Services.

By contrast, 12.3 per cent of Quebec’s population belongs to the larger category of “cultural communities,” but accounts for only 7.1 per cent of Quebec government employees, according to the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Quebec government.

For Canadian-born linguistic minorities, the differences are much starker.

Police struggle to recruit from cultural communities

The Sûreté du Quebec (SQ), Quebec’s provincial police force, has set itself a target of drawing nine per cent of its uniformed officers from cultural communities, but has not come close to meeting that target.

Only one per cent of the SQ’s uniformed personnel – 59 officers in total – was drawn from those communities in 2012, the latest year available.

That represents a drop from 72 officers in 2010.

SQ spokeswoman Christiane Coulombe said the force is not discriminating against minorities.

“It’s not our fault. We have the same process for everyone, the ones who pass get in,” she said.

“If blacks or Chinese don’t apply or don’t pass, there’s nothing we can do.”

She said the SQ could not provide statistics on the numbers of minorities applying, or on pass or fail rates for the SQ’s selection process.

Four per cent of Ontarians count French as their mother tongue, and yet Franco-Ontarians make up eight per cent of the Ontario civil service.

Quebec counts 7.6 per cent of its populations as anglophone, yet anglophones make up a mere 0.9 per cent of its civil service.

Taking into account their relative numbers in each province, Franco-Ontarians are more than 17 times better represented in their provincial government workforce than anglophone-Quebecers are in theirs.

Phenomenon has roots in 1960s

Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies in Montreal said historic factors contribute to the disparity.

“If you go back to the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, it was a period where francophones were quite vulnerable and not very well represented in the private sector,” he said.

“So the government expansion became a way for francophones to make considerable progress, which they have over the last 40 years.

“Paradoxically it’s now the anglophones who are finding it more challenging to get government jobs at a time when the government has become a much bigger factor in the economy.”

One of the few anglophones to ever reach the upper ranks of Quebec’s civil service, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, responded to the proposed charter of values last week.

“We conclude that there is systematic discrimination,” he said.

“That means the system itself gives rise to a major, chronic under-representation of linguistic, visible, and religious minorities within the ranks of the Quebec public service.”

No minorities hired to senior management jobs in 2010-11

The government of Quebec has set itself a target of making 25 per cent of new hires from one of four groups: cultural communities (including visible minorities); anglophones; First Nations people; and the disabled.

Jack Jedwab with the Association for Canadian Studies

Jack Jedwab with the Association for Canadian Studies says francophones historically moved to the public sector because of difficulty finding work in the English-dominated private sector in the 1960s. (CBC)

But while the Quebec government has made some progress in hiring visible minorities, the numbers of both anglophones and First Nations being hired fell steadily in each of the five years up to 2011, the latest year with data available.

At the highest ranks of the Quebec public service, minorities are even scarcer.

Although only about 79 per cent of Quebecers are white francophones, they hold 95 per cent of senior management positions in the province’s civil service.

No members of any minority group were hired into those senior ranks in 2010-11.

Crown corporation employees also better paid

In Quebec, the provincial civil service isn’t the only major provider of well-paying jobs.

Crown corporations that belong to the province, such as Hydro-Québec and the Société des Alcools du Quebec (SAQ) also have high francophone employment.

Employees there are paid very well compared to similar jobs in the private sector — for example, a cashier at an SAQ liquor store can earn over $28 an hour.

Equivalent cashier jobs in the private sector tend to pay in the $10-$13 an hour range.

The government of Quebec declined to be interviewed about the numbers.

Anglos and minorities falling behind

Last week Statistics Canada released income statistics from its National Household Survey of 2011 showing anglophone Quebecers have become poorer relative to their francophone neighbours.

The median income for Quebecers whose mother tongue was English was $27,213, compared with $29,432 for Quebec francophones.

Visible minorities fared much worse with a median income of only $19,551.

Statistics Canada said real wage gaps for working-age adults may be wider, because elderly and retired Quebec anglophones tend to be better off and raise the anglophone median income. 

“French people are making more than English people,” said federal government statistician Rene Houle.

“Younger people from mother tongue French, they tend to gain more than English people. We see that among the English people, also, there are many people with low income.”

According to the survey, less than 15 per cent of Quebec francophones live on low incomes as defined by Statistics Canada, compared with 18 per cent of anglophones and 27 per cent of allophones (people whose home language is something other than English or French).

In some regions of rural Quebec, poverty rates among anglophones are two to three times higher than for francophones.

Data from 2006 survey shows inequality

Statistics Canada has yet to do a regressive analysis of the 2011 numbers, but if the last National Household Survey is any guide, the gaps may grow wider still as analysts drill down into the raw numbers.

In that 2006 survey, francophones and anglophones initially appeared to have similar median incomes.

But once the numbers were adjusted for factors such as education and region, francophone incomes were found to be about $2,700 higher for males and $700 higher for females.

“That's a bit of a mind-bender for Quebecers,” says Jedwab.

“Particularly francophones — who have been weaned on the idea that anglophones are doing very well, thank you very much.”