Concerns over the future of the French language are easily justified. For both Canada and Quebec to have the best chance of maintaining the vitality of the French language, we must also examine the causes of the relative decline in Canada of the use of French compared to English.
With the Quebec economy becoming one of the most dynamic in Canada, more people are moving from other provinces to work in Montreal’s booming technology economy. Residents of Ottawa are also moving to Gatineau in search of more affordable housing. Yet there is very little in the way of support for such new residents to learn French. The francisation program is only open to immigrants from other countries. For the Québec government to improve the French language abilities of these newcomers, expanding the francisation program to Canadians coming from other provinces would be a great way forward. This would certainly be costly, and come with the added possibility that Canadians from Ontario or the western provinces would simply come to Quebec for a few months to take free intensive language training courses and then go back home. Still, even if this happens it would help to re-establish French in other parts of the country - money well spent if we truly want our nation to make at least some progress towards being truly bilingual. The federal government could help shoulder the cost of this, and thereby work to revive French coast to coast.
Also, there are multiple reasons that francophones want to learn English, but this is a phenomenon that we see all over the world, and is not just caused by being part of an English-majority country. For better or for worse, English has come to dominate the internet, and many parents see strong English skills as being necessary for their children to have as many options available as possible in a globalized world. There is also an element of income inequality in this. Wealthier francophone and allophone families have no problem giving their children opportunities to learn English. Quebec families of more modest means find it more challenging to give their kids access to English classes, and fewer public options exacerbate this divide.
The flip side of the desire of many non-anglophone families to learn English is that English speakers throughout the world often have little motivation to learn other languages. This is a pity given the multiple benefits of learning a new language, from improved memory capacity to windows into other cultures.
Lastly, all of the very valid reasons for protecting French apply even more to indigenous languages, all of which find themselves in far more precarious states and often in serious danger of dying out within a generation. As a society we’ve been moving to undo great injustices of the past in terms of the colonial practices to which indigenous peoples were subjected. We need to be careful not to be dismissive of the importance of indigenous languages to Canada’s identity as well. Otherwise we risk repeating many of the destructive mistakes of past generations.