Transparency, refined, specific linguistic questioning in StatCan 2021 census is the lead source of bewilderment in the province of Québec. The fallout is well-documented in the public sphere: a perceived decline in French spoken in la belle province, and Montreal is the problem child.

A basic human concept is that truth is in the eye of the beholder.  Let’s dive right into the issue.

You may remember that StatCan chose to deviate from previous censuses by changing the nature and orientations of the questions. The goal was to change the positioning of the questions to clarify specific questions about linguistic thought in Canada.

These censuses are crucial as it’s used as a gauge a maker to evaluate the progressivity of linguistic and immigration policies in the province.

Assistant Director, Language Statistic Program, Center for the Demography of StatCan, Éric Caron Malenfant, explains why they did the changes:

« One of the reasons for making the change was to reduce the response burden of language survey respondents. By changing the positioning of the questions, those who spoke only one language had fewer questions to answer in the survey ».

StatCan is apolitical and believes the change was minor, non-material, and justifiable. As a result, tensions are at a fever pitch, and some citizens show deep anxiety and insecurity.

« The truth is that it feels like DEFCON 2 here. », says West Island long-time resident Marc Tremblay.

Regardless of the outcome, diverse and robust opinions don’t bother StatCan. The goal is to provide factual information according to the statistical indicators:

« It’s usual, it’s normal that people can take the information we give and interpret it differently, » says Éric Caron Malenfant.

Calvin Veltman is a well-known statistical professional who has written extensively on the perceived decline of French language use in the province of Québec. He does agree with StatCan that the new census potentially has better questions:

« Indeed, in the new 2021 census, there may be better questions asked, but keeping the comparability of censuses is very important in statistics, » says Calvin Veltman.

However, he feels very strongly that the linguistic census of 2021 is different from other years, and we need to learn how to interpret it compared to the previous census:

« The reality of this 2021 census is fudged. It’s been 80 years since we kept the same questions to make good comparisons and, thus, good analyses. We must figure out what to do with the 2021 census. In large part, we cannot use this data for comparability purposes. » says the retired sociolinguistic professor from UQAM.

Pierre Fortin, renowned Emeritus Professor of Economics at Université du Québec de Montréal (UQAM), sees things differently and chooses words to describe the 2021 linguistic census more carefully. Moreover, he feels that economists and statistical professionals can interpret the data of 2021.

He and Gilles Grenier, a professor at the University of Ottawa, adopted a different angle in their analysis. Using only the data from 2021, they found that the importance of the French language increased in successive generations of immigrants until 2016 but decreased from 2016 to 2021.

However, he does add a vital nuance and does agree with Calvin Veltman that the changes in the 2021 census have had an impact on the overall results:

« It remains possible, however, that the general decline in French, estimated by comparing 2016 to 2021, is partly overestimated, as Calvin Veltman thinks, due to the inversion of the order of questions about the mother tongue and languages regularly spoken at home, » says Pierre Fortin.

The Emeritus Professor of Economics at UQAM has conveyed this possibility in the conclusion of his brief attached to the Ministry of the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette.

The aftermath is complete mayhem within the province. What follows this linguistic survey is a high level of emotional distress. Some journalists have portrayed this survey as the beginning of the end for the francophone state.

In addition, some compared and depicted the fate of the Québecois with the demised of the francophones living in Louisiana at the time. Furthermore, many believe that these types of analogies and comparations are far-fetched and statistically improbable:

« In the many articles I have written, I have shown that the number of French-speaking individuals in Quebec, with the number of Québecois whose mother tongue is French, has increased steadily from one census to another. We went from 4.7M to 7M francophone. So, invariably, it is statistically impossible to replicate the Louisiana situation in our present and current context, » says Calvin Veltman.

Pierre Fortin and Gilles Grenier do not oppose the feelings of alarmism that animate various groups, but only insofar as they aren’t disconnected from a factual basis.