Many flagship organizations in Montréal have been reported as hiring English-speaking unilingual managers and not leaving enough room for French. Yeah... I know... old news... still, discussions around these reports are missing the point.
Most of these discussions argued that English is the language of business and the way of globalization; there's no doubt about it. Some also suggested that the Québécois shouldn't shy away from learning a second language. A recent poll suggests that the majority agrees, 62% for English-speaking Québécois and 56% for French speakers.
My own personal experience with bilingualism at work is a positive one. Everyone chips in using the language they feel most comfortable with. A French-speaker didn't get some of the English words that were spoken?... someone translates. An English-speaker didn't get some of the French words that were spoken?... somebody else translates. No muss, no fuss, all is fine and everybody learns. However, things don't always work as easily.
I was chatting with an English-speaking colleague recently who didn't understand this concern about not having enough French in the workplace. She observed that the majority of discussions were held in French. She was right. I told her that the issue wasn't being conveyed properly. "It's not about not having enough room for French", I told her. "It's about shutting out French-speaking unilinguals." She looked at me puzzled.
I emphasized that, although I did over 90% of my work in French, I could as easily do 100% of it in English. She agreed. When I asked her if it were possible for me to do 100% of it in French, she wouldn't answer. Had we been talking about a job working with the public or involving international trade, reasonable knowledge of English would be a given. But this is an ordinary administrative job involving other Québécois in Montréal.
Recent poll results published by La Presse [Google translation] conclude that the Québécois are divided regarding the obligation of speaking French in the workplace. The poll is asking the wrong question.
Many argue that a qualified worker mustn't be discriminated if he doesn't speak the language of the majority. So be it... now... does it make it OK to discriminate someone who only speaks the language of the majority?