Montreal

Growing national bilingual divide 'dangerous,' Montreal business leader says

The growing bilingual divide between young francophone and anglophones across Canada is "dangerous" and more needs to be done to reduce the trend, says the head of Montreal's Chamber of Commerce.

Number of anglophones aged 15 to 24 who can speak French has hardly improved since 1971

Canada's bilingual policies are failing, says the head of Montreal's Chamber of Commerce. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The growing bilingual divide between young francophone and anglophones across Canada is "dangerous" and more needs to be done to reduce the trend, says the head of Montreal's Chamber of Commerce.

Michel Leblanc said if he had to evaluate the Government of Canada's performance on the issue, he would give it a failing grade.

Leblanc spoke Tuesday at a consultation on official languages policy that was organized by the federal government and attended by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.

Figures provided by the government at Tuesday's consultation show that between 1971 and 2011, young francophone Canadians have been much better at learning the country's two official languages than their young anglophone counterparts.

The priority has to be that we live well together — and these numbers are dangerous.- Michel Leblanc

In 1971, 39 per cent of young francophones aged 15 to 24 were considered bilingual across the country.

By 2011, that number had risen to 55 per cent.

Young anglophones in the same age group had far less impressive gains over the same period, rising from just under 10 per cent who were considered bilingual in 1971 to around 17 per cent in the late 1990s before dropping to 13 per cent by 2011.

That rate, however, is significantly higher among young anglophones in Quebec and has increased in recent years, from 48 per cent in 2001 to 52 per cent in 2011.

While acknowledging those gains in Quebec, Leblanc warned that the downward national trend among young anglophones could result in renewed language tensions in Canada if it continues.

"The priority has to be that we live well together — and these numbers are dangerous," he said.

Joly acknowledged that there is always room for improvement and said her ministry wants to prioritize student exchanges.

She also said Heritage Canada is working with the provinces and territories to ensure French immersion programs are available to those who want them.

The federal government hopes to have a new official languages strategy in place by 2018.

Based on a report from Presse Canadienne

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