Montreal·CBC Asks

Is there a future for young Anglos in rural Quebec?

Finding good job opportunities that will keep young Anglos in the region is a "big, big issue" for the Townshippers' Association. But one young farmer who stayed says English speakers sometimes throw up their own roadblock, believing they can never be bilingual enough.

Anglophone Townshipper says young people need to get over their fears and 'jump in'

Veronica Enright worked at a marketing agency in Montreal for just a few months before realizing she longed for life on the farm, and her cows, like Abby. (Submitted by Veronica Enright)

Growing up on a farm in Compton, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, Veronica Enright never had any doubts that she would find a way to build a life in the province.

The 26-year-old earned a degree in marketing from Bishop's University before heading to work at an advertising agency in Montreal.

But after just a few months, she realized the office life was not for her. She longed for her cows. She made the move back to the country to work on the family farm, where her boyfriend — now her husband — joined her two months later.

Not many young English-speaking Quebecers have Enright's level of certainty about their future in the province.

Finding good job opportunities that will keep young Anglos in the region is a "big, big issue" for Gerald Cutting, the president of the Townshippers' Association.

He said that's high on the list of priorities for the English-speaking community he represents, along with access to health care and education in English.

English-speaking Quebec youth are more likely than French-speaking youth to be unemployed — 13.3 per cent versus 9.8 per cent — according to a report by the Community Health and Social Services Network, an umbrella group representing English-speaking communities in Quebec.

A higher percentage of young anglophones live in poverty than Quebec francophones in the same age bracket, according to the same report.

Across the province, 68.2 per cent of English-speaking youth, compared to 59.8 per cent of French-speaking youth, are considered low-income, the report found.

Too often, said Cutting, the way out of poverty is to leave.

"If they have skills, and especially if they happen to have a reasonable level of bilingualism, there are very good, well-paying, interesting jobs that are available outside of the Townships and outside of the province," Cutting said.

Enright has witnessed what Cutting is talking about: she started at Bishop's with a group of six anglophones who all grew up in the region. Seven years later, only two of them still live in the Townships. The others have moved on to bigger cities, including Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

Language skills are an obstacle

Enright believes young anglophone job-seekers sometimes put up their own roadblock. Even if they are bilingual, she said, they do not think they're bilingual enough.

"I think so many young people at university have a fear of making mistakes and a fear that they're going to be judged if they go into working in their second language," she said.

"I have so many friends who moved to Ontario because they didn't think their French was good enough to stay."

"But once you're immersed and you're making small talk with your co-workers that are all Francophone, it comes pretty quickly, and it comes pretty naturally," she said.

"I think people need to be less scared and just jump in. See what happens."

Not enough training in English, Cutting says

Cutting agrees that the perception of one's bilingualism is an issue, but he said there is not enough access to training, whether at the post-secondary or technical level, in English.

"If you want to make a difference in terms of employment that is meaningful and has a future, you're going to have to engage in affirmative action," he said.

"What does that mean? It means you may have to go for programs that may not meet that critical mass, but if they're not given, we're simply not going to be able to keep people here."

Enright ended up getting a certificate in animal production, in French, from Université Laval, and she said most of her corporate work events and training are with francophones.

Cutting said he believes the government should try to provide incentives for young English-speakers to stay in Quebec and to motivate employers to hire them.

"For the English-speaking people who stayed in the Townships, this is it for us, and we want to do everything possible to make sure that the younger people find a future here," he said.