Nous devons parler (we need to talk): Maintaining the Vitality of French-Speaking Communities

February 24, 2022 - An aging population, low fertility rates, and high levels of youth out migration: we’ve heard it all before. But what does this demographic shift mean for minority groups already in Ontario’s northern regions? Well, for the French-speaking population, it could impact the availability of French services such as access to a French-speaking nurse or the supply of French school teachers.


One of the ways to mitigate the effects a declining French-speaking population, is through targeted attraction and retention efforts. In Taking Aim: French-Speaking Migration Targets for Northern Ontario, the author establishes community-specific in-migration targets for the French-speaking population, with the goal of maintaining their current share of the core working-age population, through to 2026.

Migration targets are certainly not a new strategy in Northern Ontario. In 2019 Northern Policy Institute projected annual immigration targets for all of the northern municipalities based on their population size. Some of the benefits for setting migration targets is that community decision makers can measure their attraction success and progress, and determine if additional resources are required.

For employers, establishing community-specific targets to maintain current proportions of core working-age French speakers mean that employers will have an adequate pool of potential employees to hire. Meaning, children can continue getting French education, unilingual French speakers can receive medical care in their mother tongue, and the cultural and linguistic community can live on.

So, what are the French-speaking targets that communities should aim for? For some communities like Timmins, North Bay and Greater Sudbury, it’s several thousand French-speaking and Francophone in-migrants within a ten-year period. Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay are just shy of under 1,000 for each group.

Of course, large communities aren’t the only ones that are looking to fill labour market gaps and support the continuation of French services. Districts such as Timiskaming should aim for around 1,500 to 2,000 French-speaking in-migrants and about 1,300 to 1,600 Francophones in-migrants. To note, Francophones are counted as apart of the French-speaking population, meaning they count towards the total French-speaking migration targets.

With so many new initiatives being rolled out to target Francophone and French-speaking migrants, now is the time to establish targets for the maintenance of the current status quo. Of course, ambitious communities can increase their targets should they wish to see an increase in the French-speaking labour share.

What can communities do?

In tandem with initiatives at the provincial and federal levels, there are actions community-level decision-makers and individuals can pursue to increase the attraction and retention of French-speaking migrants.

  1. Communities can create an attraction and retention strategy for the French-speaking population, focusing on providing a welcoming community for the demographic group.
  2. Identify programs and services available for French speakers (including employers interested in hiring French speakers) and ensure they are easily identifiable and accessible.
  3. Focus attraction efforts beyond international immigrants to also include domestic and secondary migrants.
  4. Pursue employer and community outreach to communicate the benefit and need for French-speaking migrants.
  5. For communities participating in the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), the Community Selection Committees are encouraged to assess the weight given to language skills, specifically pertaining to knowledge of official languages.

French-speaking and Francophone migrants are crucial to the longevity of both the language and culture associated with these demographic groups. With community-specific targets in hand, decision-makers are well-equipped with the information needed to preserve the vitality of French-speaking communities.


Mercedes Labelle is a Lead Analyst at NPI

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