Official Bilingualism in Canada a ‘Myth,’ Says New Poll

Official Bilingualism in Canada a ‘Myth,’ Says New Poll
People walk by bilingual signs for a commercial space for lease in the city of Westmount on the island of Montreal on Aug. 5, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)
The Canadian Press
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A new poll reveals a stark divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada about whether the country should be bilingual.

In a Leger poll conducted for The Canadian Press, only 43 percent of respondents across Canada said they held a positive view of federal bilingualism—which was enshrined into law in 1969, making English and French Canada’s official languages. Eighteen percent of respondents held a negative view.

However, in Quebec, 70 percent of respondents said they view bilingualism positively; 11 percent held the opposite opinion. Outside Quebec, the percentage of respondents who view official bilingualism positively was 35 percent—and 23 percent in Alberta, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan close behind.

Asked whether it’s important for Canada to remain officially bilingual, 83 percent of Quebecers said it was; nearly half that number—43 percent—in the rest of Canada agreed.

“It’s the two solitudes expressed in a poll,” Sébastien Poitras, vice-president of public affairs at Léger, said in an interview.

“This value put forward by the Canadian government, that we’re a country with two official languages, and therefore have ‘coast-to-coast’ bilingualism, is a myth that doesn’t hold true in the rest of Canada,” Mr. Poitras said.

New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province; in Quebec, French is the only official language. Sixty percent of respondents in Quebec said provinces other than New Brunswick and their own should be bilingual, while 26 percent said the same in the rest of Canada.

Fifty-five percent of respondents in Quebec said their province should have both French and English as official languages, compared to 22 percent in the rest of the country. However, 65 percent of Canadians outside of Quebec said that province should be bilingual.

“We’ve seen that, for the rest of Canada, people don’t see Canada’s official bilingualism as something positive,” Mr. Poitras said.

In fact, 41 percent of total respondents—60 percent in Quebec—said official bilingualism is at the heart of Canadian identity; 49 percent in the rest of the country said it exists only to satisfy a minority.

Federal bilingualism, Mr. Poitras said, leaves Canadians outside Quebec “indifferent at best. Then, when asked about the importance of Canada’s official bilingualism, just over half of anglophones say it’s not important.”

In Quebec, 70 percent of respondents said the survival of French was threatened in Canada, dropping to 19 percent in the rest of the country. When focusing on the survival of French in Quebec, 63 percent of Quebecers said it was under threat compared to 11 percent in the rest of Canada. Thirty-eight percent of Canadians outside of Quebec said English was under threat in Quebec compared to only 17 percent of respondents in the province.

The Léger survey was conducted online with 1,536 respondents between June 14 and 17, 2024. As the poll’s sample was not probabilistic, the survey doesn’t have a margin of error. Leger says a probabilistic poll with a similar sample size would have a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.