Montreal Gazette

‘Nés pour un petit pain’ is far from today’s truth

Statistics show French speakers fare well on income,

- William Johnson says. William Johnson is a former Montreal Gazette national affairs columnist. He lives in Gatineau.

There was a time in our history when French Canadians perceived themselves as condemned to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. They had a saying, “Nous sommes nés pour un petit pain,” we are born for a small crust of bread. But those days are now folklore.

When the Parti Québécois, back in 1977, announced in a white paper the radical Charter of the French Language, it justified the restrictio­ns to be imposed on English in part by the relative poverty of French-speaking Quebecers. The white paper declared: “One must remember that a study for the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission put the francophon­es at the bottom of the income ladder, with the Italians and the Indians.”

That dismal, even disparagin­g, descriptio­n was obsolete even then. With the Quiet Revolution, the gap since time immemorial in incomes between French and English speakers had almost closed by 1977, as studies by the Economic Council of Canada soon demonstrat­ed.

But now, four decades later, how are French-speaking Canadians really faring?

I obtained Wednesday from Statistics Canada data as yet unpublishe­d from the 2016 census of Canada that establish the relation between language and income in 2015 in all parts of Canada. The results are intriguing.

StatsCan uses three measures of language: mother tongue, language most often spoken at home and first official language spoken. Though some difference­s appear, depending on which measure is chosen, the same picture emerges with all three: French speakers earn more than English speakers almost everywhere. For brevity, I’ll consider only the language most often spoken at home, excluding results for those who report speaking more than one language at home. And for simplicity, I will consider only employment income.

In all parts of Canada except New Brunswick, Alberta and the Yukon, French speakers earned more than the province or territory’s median employment income and more than the incomes of the province’s or territory’s English speakers. (Median income is the point at which half of people earn more than that and half earn less.)

And yet, in Canada taken as a whole, French speakers have a median employment income that is less than that of English speakers. How can this paradox be true?

The answer is simple. French speakers, in eight provinces and two territorie­s, earn more than English speakers. But French speakers are concentrat­ed in Quebec and New Brunswick. Four provinces west of Quebec have a higher median employment income than does Quebec or the Atlantic Provinces. Quebec’s median employment income was $31,263. This was less than that of Canada as a whole ($33,684) or of Alberta ($42,679), or of Saskatchew­an ($36,612), or of Ontario ($33,946), or of Manitoba ($33,677).

The lowest median employment income was found in Prince Edward Island ($26,851), then in New Brunswick ($29,124), then Nova Scotia ($29,980), then Newfoundla­nd ($31,529), with British Columbia coming next with $31,713.

In Quebec, French speakers had a median employment income of $32,470; English speakers, $29,843. In Newfoundla­nd, the figures were $48,484 and $31,695. In Prince Edward Island, $34,194 and $27,128. In Nova Scotia, $32,921 and $30,219. In Ontario, $41,426 and $35,863. In Manitoba, $37,044 and $35,262. In Saskatchew­an, $40,384 and $37,766.

In the Northwest Territorie­s, French speakers’ median employment income was $75,776, English speakers’ $56,414. In Nunavut, $84,736 and $50,048. The two provinces where French speakers lagged were New Brunswick and Alberta. In New Brunswick, French speakers’ median employment income was $28,140; English speakers’, $29,861. In Alberta, the respective figures were French speakers $44,143, English speakers $45,158. Finally, in the Yukon, the figures were $44,800 for the French speakers, $44,980 for the English speakers.

Porteurs d’eau? Old stereotype­s die hard. But now, it’s not the bloke but Jean-Baptiste who should be pictured with top hat and cigar.

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