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English-speaking seniors in Quebec
Getting services in own language can be a battle for Quebec’s rural English-speaking seniors
(Global) The recent formation of a new group – Seniors Action Quebec – highlights an issue that faces a lot of Quebec’s anglophone seniors in rural areas: getting services in English.
“There’s nothing available for the 55-year-old farmer who’s showing precocious signs of Alzheimer’s,” said Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, who spoke at a recent SAQ launch at Concordia University.
The group is not an Anglo-rights defence group that would take to the street against the Charter of Values – it’s more of a lobbying organization aimed at helping senior English-speakers get healthcare, pension benefits and other services in English.
“We’re not interested in fighting language wars and so on,” said David Cassidy, the president of the organization. “But language is an important component because access to information is limited.”
Opinion: Meeting the needs of English-speaking seniors in Quebec
By Graham Fraser, Special to The Gazette November 19, 2013
Bowser and Blue got a laugh at the Goldbloom Awards banquet in downtown Montreal last month, lamenting that the best and the brightest of the English-speaking community had left Quebec. “But you’re still here!” they called out cheerfully.
There was a burst of rueful laughter. It was gallows humour for a community that has suffered from what demographers have called “the missing middle” — the departure of young, educated adults and families, leaving the very young and the elderly behind. A report I have just published on the English-speaking elderly in Quebec, titled Enjoying Your Senior Years in Your Language, Culture and Community, found that English-speaking seniors, particularly those living off the island of Montreal, face a series of challenges. (“Challenges” is the politically correct term for problems.)
It may not be obvious why I would undertake such a study. After all, health care is under provincial jurisdiction. However, I thought that there were some specific issues that federal institutions could and should address. There is now a new advocacy network for English-speaking seniors called Seniors Action Quebec, and I thought it would be useful for organizations in the network to know about supports that federal institutions do provide. I also wanted to draw the attention of federal institutions to the particular situation of English-speaking seniors in Quebec.
To begin with, there was no recent statistical profile of Quebec’s English-speaking seniors, in contrast with the data available on French-speaking seniors in minority communities outside Quebec.
The study found that, overall across Quebec, the proportion of anglophones who are over 65 is the same as the proportion of francophones: 13.3 per cent. But off the island of Montreal, it is quite different.
The farther the region is from Montreal, the higher the proportion of English-speaking seniors — 18 per cent in Chaudière-Appalaches, 19.1 per cent in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, 20.8 per cent in Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine and, though nearer to Montreal, 22 per cent in the Eastern Townships.
Today, English-speaking seniors are facing difficulties that they did not have when they were younger. When they were working, they rarely needed to be bilingual (fewer than half of them — 47 per cent — speak French) and they did not have serious needs for health and social services.
But it is different for them now that they are older, and it is often difficult for those living in regions outside Montreal to get services in English.
The study found that, where service in English is not available, more than half (53 per cent) of English-speaking seniors depend on family members for interpretation, or to negotiate with the system on their behalf.
This is not surprising, given that only 45 per cent of Quebec nurses have any knowledge of English, and even then, many of these are working in Montreal as opposed to in the regions outside the city. (A much higher proportion of doctors in Quebec — 85.5 per cent — speak English, but often the most important contact for patients, particularly elderly patients, is with nurses.)
In the regions outside Montreal, the level of bilingualism among all health-care professionals drops dramatically to less than a third in the Quebec City area, and lower in more remote areas.
The federal government does not deliver health-care services. However, there are a number of ways in which federal institutions like Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Status of Women Canada can help official-language-minority communities in general, and Quebec’s English-speaking seniors in particular.
The Official Languages Act requires federal institutions to take positive measures for the growth and development of minority-language communities, and elderly anglophones in Quebec are being overlooked.
In the report, I recommend that these departments and agencies take the particular needs of Quebec’s English-speaking seniors into account, and recognize that their needs are different — from both the French-speaking majority in Quebec and the French-speaking minority communities outside Quebec.
These institutions need to coordinate their actions and identify the research gaps that exist so that those actions can be effectively targeted.
The first step in addressing a problem is to recognize that there is one.
Graham Fraser is the federal government’s Commissioner of Official Languages.