North Shore Anglos in Distress: 

Anglos are No Longer a Privileged Minority

Colin McGregor

Anglos are on the losing end of the economic divide here in Québec, says a recent study. And the gap depends on what region of the province you live in. 

“This report challenges the myth of Québec’s English-speakers as a wealthy and homogenous community,” explains Nicholas Salter, Executive Director of the Provincial Employment Roundtable (PERT), referring to their employment profile of English-speakers across the province. 

The study found that in 15 of Québec’s 17 administrative regions, English speakers have higher unemployment rates than French speakers. “This is particularly true in Côte-Nord (the North Shore), where the unemployment rate of English speakers is 25.5%,” says the report.

Moreover, English-speaking Quebecers earn lower after-tax incomes compared to French speakers.  

English speakers tend to have particular trouble integrating into the economy in resource and manufacturing oriented regions such as Estrie, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Nord-du-Québec, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine and the Laurentides. 

PERT is an independent provincial organization whose mandate is to collect employment-related information on the challenges facing the English-speaking community of Québec. It was created by the Secrétarait aux relations avec les Québécois d’expression anglaise (SRQEA) and Youth Employment Services (YES) in 2020.

Among the report’s findings: 

– In 14 out of the 17 administrative regions, English speakers have a median after-tax income lower than that of French speakers and the total population. The exceptions are Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Mauricie and Chaudière-Appalaches. 

– Québec’s English speakers have an unemployment rate of 8.9%. This is higher than the provincial unemployment rate (7.2%) and 2% higher than the unemployment rate of French speakers (6.9%).

– In 15 out of 17 regions, the unemployment rate is higher for English-speakers than French-speakers. The best places to be an English-speaking job seeker (compared to local Francophones) are Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the Bas-Saint-Laurent, the only regions where English speakers don’t have a higher unemployment rate. 

Reasons for these income and employment gaps include:

– English speakers often face difficulties in adapting and transitioning into French-language workplaces and require additional support in making the transition into the labour market.

– For those that seek out French-language training, programs are not always accessible and are not usually targeted towards individuals looking to enter or advance in the labour market or specific sectors of the labour market. 

– In general, French has become the language of the workplace in Québec. The report explains that these income and employment gaps are often caused by the difficulties English speakers face when integrating into Québec’s largely French labour market. 

The report relies on 2016 census data as well as more recent data from the Institut de la Statistique du Québec.

Rachel Hunting, Executive Director of the Townshippers’ Association, a group representing Eastern Townships Anglophones, has pointed out that highly educated bilingual workers are often drawn to jobs outside the province which pay more. Those left in the regions to look for jobs are often younger Anglophones without French proficiency. When they do find work it is in the service sector, which pays less than other sectors.  

Bill 96, the proposed changes to Québec’s language law, will offer free French language training to anyone who requests it. But the new law will also require internal workplace communications to be in French, which means that if one Anglophone employee e-mails another Anglophone employee in English, they may well be breaking the law. 

North Shore Puzzled By Employment Gap

The notion that the North Shore suffers the biggest gap between Anglophone and Francophone employability surprises Jody Lessard. She’s the Executive Director of the North Shore Community Association (NSCA), or Association Communautaire de la Côte-Nord. They are a non-profit group representing the interests of Anglophones in their region, Québec’s second largest. 

“Parts of the report puzzle me,” she admits. 

She points out that her region includes a lot of major industries whose headquarters are not in Québec. “We have two aluminum smelters, including Alcoa, Iron Ore is here, and other heavy industries, in the middle of our region… we also have two major ports, which means shipping industries. You would think people would have higher tendencies to work in English in these high-paying industries. The head of the company is not in Québec. The people running these places would be Anglophone.”

Lessard’s non-profit organization has launched a labor market study to figure out why unemployment among Anglophones is so high in the North Shore, especially given that there are two cities there with a lot of economic activity, Baie-Comeau and Sept-Îles. She has some thoughts.

Isolated Villages

“There are isolated English-speaking villages,” she says. “Pockets of Anglophones. A lot of seasonal workers, and Anglophones who tend to leave the province to work, most likely in construction jobs.”

She also cites a lack of French written skills even among people who can speak French, which means they can’t fill jobs in sectors which demand proficiency in written French. 

And importantly, she points out, there’s “a lack of awareness of openings. We go to Service Canada instead, because their documentation is available in English… Anglophones don’t tap into Services Québec or Emploi Québec, which are not visible in English Québec.” 

Lessard would like NSCA to work towards making employment opportunities and services “more visible” for the Anglophone citizens of her region. 

She notes that “you don’t see many Anglophones in positions in the federal or provincial government around here.” Nor are there many Anglophones in health care, which requires all workers to be bilingual. “Maybe we should increase our training in French,” she offers. Anglophones tend to work “more in retail, restaurants, and hotel jobs. Entrepreneurship is not something you see here… In the high paying jobs in general, you don’t see the English speakers there. We have to ask: why?” 

One positive by-product of the Covid pandemic for the North Shore has been a boom in tourism: “Because we’ve been encouraged to travel inside the province. The place to go was the Gaspé. Everyone went to the Gaspé. But it’s full up now. We’ve seen a lot of tourists from Québec and Ontario come here instead, to fish. That will generate employment. More bilingual positions are available.”  

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