Written by Caroline Treadwell, Special to CNN
Across Canada, there are 15 million French-speaking people and one fully bilingual governor general, Mayann Francis, the 10th Madame de Champlain.
This is arguably the most diversified country in the world, and among all of its varied languages and cultures, French remains the most important. Languages should be integrated, not allowed to die out. The challenges facing Canada’s French-speaking communities are enormous — yet the government of Quebec has chosen to let them linger.
In 2012, Pierre Karl Peladeau, the former CEO of Quebecor, first began to champion the idea of publicly funded French immersion classes for French-speaking students. That year, Jean Charest was premier of Quebec. Quebec’s education minister, Jean-François Roberge, eventually said that tax money should be used to send young French-speakers to attend French immersion classes and that they could count on that money for their post-secondary education. He later backed off.
This contentious discussion was raised again in 2017 when Premier Couillard stated that parents should get more information about the cost, support and benefits of French immersion programs before deciding whether to send their children to a French immersion class.
Why is it good to educate children in French? The world of business has valued language ability and cultural competency since the beginning. Beyond economics, this is about understanding cultures, exchanging ideas and knowledge, and keeping up with the most advanced technology. Economic superiority is also a form of foreign policy. All of this speaks to the importance of promoting the English and French language and cultures, which is why President Donald Trump, Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley and members of the British royal family spoke in French at the G20 last year.
Encouraging integration of another language within Canadian society presents a huge opportunity to strengthen the economy, enhance job training, teach parents the importance of integrating French and Spanish into their children’s education, and ensure that Canada’s economy is as versatile as it can be.
This is why it is so critical that the federal government create policies that will allow the expansion of English and French language immersion programs to include French students. This can and should happen immediately, especially given that this federal government is proposing public subsidies for French immersion in schools in the coming years. Unfortunately, the proposed changes do not reflect the incredible and necessary work being done in schools across Quebec to support English and French.
Creating meaningful change for all of Canada’s citizens means helping parents and families make the best decisions for their children. It takes time to assimilate a child into a language that a parent understands. First language fluency doesn’t occur overnight. It’s an investment that puts a child’s interests and education ahead of multiple fiscal pressures — so that the child can fulfill their professional and creative potential.
Families are raising resilient, well-rounded children who use French but also appreciate the best that English has to offer. It’s crucial that governments recognize this passion, and encourage both the schools and families to develop and innovate initiatives that build strong connections and foster a lifelong bond between students and parents, teachers and parents, and among students and communities.
Canada’s commitment to the understanding and strengthening of the English and French language is not just a democratic value, it’s a national necessity. Let’s keep it going strong.