The 2015 election campaign season saw two official French debates that left many Francophones feeling left out in the cold.
Although 22 per cent, or 7.3 million people, of the Canadian population are Francophones, just over one million of them live outside Quebec. During the French debates, aired Sept. 24 and Oct. 2, the concerns unique to non-Quebecois Francophones were not addressed.
It is a reality felt strongly in New Brunswick, a province with strong Acadian roots where almost a third of the population is Francophone.
“We were not really well represented. For example, the first debate was at Radio-Canada in French and there were no questions at all concerning the [Francophones outside Quebec],” said René Cormier, president of the Société Nationale de l’Acadie, an organization representing Acadians in the Atlantic provinces and beyond.
“People are really concerned and I have to say that after the [Sept. 24] debate people were really mad. It’s like it’s a second class population.”
Although many of the issues raised at the debates concerned all Canadians, when it came to addressing the concerns of Canadian Francophones, only concerns faced by the Quebec population were addressed.
“Of course we’re concerned about the environment like everybody, but we’re also concerned about the place that we have in this country and specifically what the federal government will do to help the minorities like the Acadian minority to develop and to contribute to the development of Canada,” Cormier said.
The under-representation was the same case for both French debates, one airing on Sept. 24 on Radio-Canada and the other on the Quebec broadcaster TVA on Oct. 2. Many Francophones took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the hashtag #NousComptons—“We Count.”
“Francophones outside of Quebec are furious. They feel invisible on the national stage and are making that voice heard,” said Alec Boudreau, president of the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française and student at UNB.
Some of the concerns Cormier would have liked to see addressed included the official language law implementation, bilingualism in the Supreme Court and the Senate as well as the future of Radio-Canada, the public broadcaster that helps to connect Francophones from across the nation.
“One thing you have to say is that bilingualism and the two official languages and the minorities in this country is an issue that concerns every Canadian no matter of you’re French, English if you originate from another country,” Cormier said.
“It’s a national issue and it’s not in the radar right now. It was not in the debate, no questions were asked and it’s a real problem.”
The underrepresentation comes down to a question of demographics. Although culturally vibrant in their own right, the Francophone communities outside Quebec make up only a small portion of the entire Canadian population.
“Francophones outside of Quebec simply aren’t represented in any debate. The leaders choose not to bring us up because we’re evidently not populous enough, despite numbering 2.6 million,” Boudreau said, referencing the number of people outside Quebec who speak French but have another primary language.
In efforts to have their voice heard, organizations like the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada are urging non-Quebecois Francophones to submit complaints to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to address the neglect of their concerns in the debates.
“We recognize that the candidates in politics are really concerned with issues where the majority of the population is so in an election we have to make sure that we’re there that they know our issues,” Cormier said.
“We always have to fight to be there.”