Quebec's population hits new milestone

MONTREAL - We’re 8 million – let’s talk.
That advertising slogan is not coming to TV screens across Quebec – but demographer Chantal Girard rather wishes it were.
Girard was explaining a new report by the provincial statistics bureau announcing that Quebec’s population has reached 8 million.
The population milestone calls to mind the famous 1970s advertising slogan: “On est 6 millions – faut se parler.”
That was the tagline for a series of Labatt beer commercials that tapped into the rising nationalism that swept the Parti Québécois to power in 1976.
So great was the ad campaign’s impact that many Quebecers still think to this day the province has 6 million inhabitants, Girard said.
“I’m always fascinated by the proportion of people who still think we are 6 million, when that was back in the early 1970s,” she said.
“So I’m dreaming that somebody will pick up on the 8 million number and set the record straight,” Girard added.
Immigration and a drop in the number of Quebecers who moved to other provinces have boosted annual population growth to one per cent – one of the highest levels in 50 years, Girard said.
Quebec gained 76,000 residents in 2010, mostly due to immigration and a slowing of out-migration to other provinces. That marks the highest rate of net migration to Quebec (arrivals offset by departures) since the province started keeping records in 1962, according to the report by the Institut de la statistique du Québec.
Immigration is driving the rise, the report said. Last year, the province welcomed 54,000 immigrants from more than 130 countries, led by Morocco, Algeria and France.
But don’t expect any ad campaigns touting the population boom, said Benoit Duguay, a management professor and communications expert at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
With Quebec nationalism on the decline, ads exploiting the push for nationhood would likely fall flat, Duguay said. Also, increasing diversity has made population growth a touchier subject than back in the ’70s, he said.
“I don’t think it would work right now,” he said.
“It was based on a nationalistic appeal: Let’s be together, we’re only 6 million French-speaking people and we’re surrounded by English-speaking people, so let’s stick together,” he said.
“Now, we are 8 million but we’re not 8 million French-speaking Québécois de souche (native Quebecers). In the ’70s, we were 6 million but a fair proportion of those were Québécois de souche,” he added.
The beer ads exploited Quebecers’ pride in having a large enough population to become an independent nation, said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies.
But now, fears that Montreal is becoming less francophone are causing many to be ambivalent toward immigration, he said.
“Quebecers like the idea of population growth. They’re more supportive of it than any other province in Canada,” he said.
But a perception that French is threatened in Montreal has created a backlash, Jedwab said. “You’ve got this tension and almost an inherent ambiguity which is difficult to resolve,” he said.
When Quebec passed the 7-million mark in 1990, natural population growth (births minus deaths) drove the increase, Girard said. But population growth is expected to slow as baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1966, move into their senior years, the report warned.
By 2031, 26 per cent of the population will be 65 or older, while just 20 per cent will be under 20.
As the population ages, Quebec will have to rely entirely on immigration for population growth, the report predicted. The province will reach 9 million inhabitants in about 25 years.
Prior to 1960, Quebec’s population grew by between 1.5 per cent and three per cent a year, mostly as a result of natural increase, Girard said.
The report noted that migration from Quebec to other provinces slowed in 2010, with a net loss of 3,000 residents to English Canada (departures offset by arrivals) and of 4,000 in 2009. That was a marked improvement since 2006, when Quebec lost 12,000 residents to other provinces.
The natural increase of the population added 30,000 people in 2010.
The median age in Quebec is 41.4 years, compared with under 25 in the 1950s and ’60s.
The female-male gap in life expectancy has dropped to just four years from seven years in 1990; women can expect to live to 83.6 years and men to 79.6 years.
Fully 63 per cent of babies are now born outside of a formal marriage, compared with 38 per cent in 1990.
Twenty-seven per cent of Quebec babies have at least one parent who was born abroad.
More highlights:
1,009 Babies were named William
454 Babies were named Léa
79.6 years Life expectancy for males
83.6 years Life expectancy for females
1.7 birth rate
28 Average age of mothers when they had their first child

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