Young English-Speakers Flee Quebec


ENGLISH-SPEAKING young people are leaving Quebec following the narrow defeat of separatism in the Oct. 30 referendum.

"Let's face it, Quebec isn't an enticing place for an English person, especially with the anti-ethnic remarks made on referendum night," says Kosta Kostic, who will soon graduate with a degree in film and TV production from Concordia University. He's leaving the province right away. "Every person in the film business here is of French origin. That's who they're going to hire, even though I do speak French."

The exodus of English speakers from Quebec has been under way for decades, but it may have picked up momentum due to political uncertainty and open hostility toward so-called "ethnics" or non- French-speakers who voted against separation.

After the referendum, Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau blamed "money and ethnics," code words for the English-speaking community in Montreal, for separatism's defeat. Mr. Parizeau resigned after the remarks and is being replaced by Lucien Bouchard, another ardent separatist who will be sworn in Jan. 29.

But Parizeau's words, and the spirit with which they were delivered, has made many youths who don't belong to the French-speaking majority anxious about their futures.

Statistics back up the anecdotal evidence that young people are leaving.

"Long-term indications of youth attending English-language institutions showed just 27 percent of them believed they would still be in Quebec in 10 years," says David Ferrabee of Alliance Quebec, an English-language lobby group here.

"I see many of the people I grew up with once a year, at Christmas, when they come back here to visit their families," says Mr. Ferrabee, who grew up in Montreal.

The 1992 study conducted for Alliance Quebec by a professor at McGill University looked at general reasons for young Anglophones to leave the province: Strict language laws imposed by the provincial government, which limit the use of English; personal economic situations or lack of jobs; followed by general political conditions in Quebec.

But Ferrabee thinks that the English community's attitudes have changed since 1992. "I would suggest political worry has taken first place following the referendum result," he says. The federalists' narrow victory, 50.6 to 49.4 percent, has rekindled hopes of the separatist movement.

"Because I'm English-speaking there's no way I'm going to get a job in Quebec," says Wendy Shaughnessy, a second-year math major at Concordia University here. "I can speak French, but I'll have a degree from an English-speaking university. They're obviously going to take someone from a French-speaking university."

English-speaking Quebeckers have been worrying about Quebec nationalism for 30 years. In the five years following the first election of a separatist provincial government in 1976, 150,000 English-speaking Quebeckers left the province, most of them for the rest of Canada, according to the federal government. There has been a continuing population drain since then.

Many of those leaving Quebec are well-educated and fluent in both English and French, just the type of people Quebec's economy should rely on whether it is independent or still part of Canada. For some, the reasons are political; for others, economic.

Of the 800,000 English-speakers in a province with a population of 7 million, the bulk of the Anglophones - 500,000 - live in Montreal. English speakers in Montreal once ran commerce in the city. No longer. Today, Francophone executives dominate business and, according to government statistics, are paid more than English-speaking employees.

To succeed in business today, knowing French is not enough. It pays to be a descendant of original French settlers.

Bilingual English speakers make less money than unilingual French speakers, according to a recent study by Quebec's language office. Sixty percent of English Quebeckers speak French; 32 percent of French-speaking Quebeckers speak English.

That is why the bilingual Ms. Shaughnessy will leave for Calgary in May. The numbers tell her the jobs usually go to those from the French culture.

But not everyone who leaves does so because of politics. Unemployment is higher in Quebec than in neighboring Ontario. Toronto has long eclipsed Montreal as the financial capital of the country.

"I moved from Montreal to Toronto because this is where the work is," says Kevin Duggan, a financial trader. "For me, there was no political reason," he says. Unlike many others, he hopes to go back.

But Shaughnessy has no plans to return. She worries Mr. Bouchard will move the province quickly toward independence. It's something she can't live with. "Canada is a great country. I can't grasp the concept of why Quebec would want to separate." She also worries about being stuck as a citizen of a new country. "If Quebec separates and then I want to leave... well then Canada is going to frown on me because I'm Quebecois. I'd rather get out as soon as possible."

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