The data is evidence of the "disturbing decline" of French in the province, according to French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.
The number of French speakers in Quebec is going up, but that's little comfort to those concerned about the state of the language in the province. The proportion of Quebec's population who mostly speak French at home decreased from 79% to 77.5% between 2016 and 2021, according to the latest census data from StatCan.
Similarly, while the number of people with French as their first language has increased in terms of the raw numbers, their proportion within Quebec’s population declined from 77.1% to 74.8%.
French is still predominant in the province's rural regions. Statistics Canada gave the example of Mauricie, Laurentides and the Bas-Saint-Laurent, where the proportion of people for whom French is the first official language spoken (of Canada's two official languages) was 99.1% in 2021.
For context, in Montreal, the rate was 58.4%.
What does this mean for the future of French in the province? For provincial Minister of the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette, the data is evidence of what he called the "disturbing decline" of the language in Quebec. In a Facebook post, he championed measures he put forth in Bill 96, the controversial law that overhauled the Charter of the French Language with an aim to better protect and promote the province's only official language.
According to StatCan, "the relative proportion of individuals who speak predominantly French at home has been decreasing since 2001" even as the total number of at-home French speakers has increased in Quebec.
Meanwhile, the proportion of Quebecers whose only native language is English remained "stable," going from from 7.5% in 2016 to 7.6% in 2021. 10.4% of Quebec residents mostly spoke English at home in 2021, compared to 9.7% in 2016. And for 13% of residents, English was the first official language spoken, an increase of 1%.
2021 marked the first time the number of people whose first official language is English (but who could have a mother tongue other than French) topped the one million mark in Quebec.
English-French bilingualism also increased, from 44.5% to 46.4%, as did the number of people "who reported both English and French as their mother tongues."