New Brunswick

French use declines at home and work as francophone numbers drop

Use of the French language in the province has decreased since the turn of the millennium, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

Three-quarters of francophones are bilingual compared with 15 per cent of anglophones

Michel Carrier, the acting commissioner of official languages, said new numbers in the report show a decrease in the use of the French language in New Brunswick. (Radio-Canada)

Use of the French language in New Brunswick has decreased since the turn of the millennium, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

The report found the francophone population decreased between 2001 and 2016, and it indicated a decline in the use of French in homes and workplaces.

While the overall bilingualism rate has remained steady at about 34 per cent during the 15-year period, the federal agency found the majority of francophones were bilingual compared to a small fraction of anglophones.

Michel Carrier, the interim commissioner of official languages for the province, said the numbers aren't surprising. The report confirmed trends his office has studied.

"When you have statistics like this, numbers demonstrate that, yeah, there is a consistent decrease over the years," Carrier said.

From enforcing laws and improving services to celebrating and promoting culture, Carrier said government and communities — both anglophone and francophone — need to continue to "ensure that the linguistic minority continues not only to exist but flourish."

This map from Statistics Canada shows the density of French-speaking New Brunswickers. Red and orange mean a higher French-speaking population, while yellow and green signify a lower population. (Statistics Canada)

In 2001, the francophone community accounted for 237,800, or 33.1 per cent, of all New Brunswickers. By 2016, the number of francophones dipped to 231,610, or 31.7 per cent, even though the overall population grew.

The report indicated the number of individuals who speak mainly French at home fell five percentage points, to 27.9, per cent of the population over those 15 years. The number of people who use mainly French at work dropped 5.3 points, to 21.6, by 2016.

Better than 50 years ago

Carrier said the province has made progress on the official languages front in the 50 years since the Official Languages Act became law.

The commissioner said New Brunswick has come a long away in ensuring francophones have equal status and privileges. Though there's still work to be done, he said, the two linguistic communities interact far more than they did 50 years ago and the number of mixed marriages has increased.

The study by his office suggested the transmission of French to children in mixed marriages has increased during that 15-year span.

Increased integration between the two communities comes with many positives, he said, but it also poses challenges for the linguistic minority — mainly assimilation.

Carrier pointed to a decline in opportunities to speak French at work. His office's study reported 95 per cent of English-speaking civil servants were able to speak English at work, but just 47 per cent of French-speaking civil servants were able to speak French on the job.

"There is within the legislation an obligation on government, or at least within government, to provide opportunities to speak the language at work because if you are constantly having to spend eight, 10 hours a day in the other language, your first language may suffer," he said.

The Statistics Canada report found there are far more bilingual francophones — 73.2 per cent of French-speaking New Brunswickers — than bilingual anglophones, who account for just 15.8 per cent of all English-speaking New Brunswickers.

French Immersion education in the province is under scrutiny for not producing enough bilingual speakers. A report from the auditor general linked poor student performance to frequent system changes.

Figures in that report show that of 1,624 students who began French immersion in 2004, only 10 per cent finished Grade 12 with an "advanced" or better level of French. The province is also struggling to find enough qualified French Immersion teachers.

'It's not normal'

Robert Melanson, president of the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, said the state of bilingualism among anglophones is deplorable.

"It's not normal that in New Brunswick there are just 10, 15 per cent of the anglophone population who is bilingual," Melanson, speaking in French, told Radio-Canada.

Robert Melanson, president of the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, said the number of bilingual Anglophones is deplorable. (CBC)

Melanson said he wants to see francophones take charge of the immigration file.

"We have duality in health, education, but it takes duality in immigration," Melanson said.

Carrier also said francophone immigration should be at the forefront of the issue, as the province and many of its employers look to newcomers to fill labour shortages.

"It's important that if all your immigrants that come here don't have the ability to speak French," he said, "it reduces the numbers, it reduces the opportunities present in the workplace, in the communities."

With files from Radio-Canada