In Canada, having fluency in English and French is mandatory (In some important government jobs like prime minister). This is considering that the group of French people in Canada is just about 20% of the population and a report says that-

In the 2011 Census, 5.8 million people nationwide reported being able to conduct a conversation in both English and French, which corresponds to a bilingualism rate of 17.5%.

And the majority of bilingual people are from the single French-speaking province, Quebec, where 42% of the population is bilingual. And part of the aforementioned report is that-

Between 2001 and 2011, the lack of growth in bilingualism outside Quebec occurred as the non‑Francophone immigrant population was growing and the proportion of students in French-as-a-second-language (FSL) programs was shrinking.

From both these excerpts it is said that 17.5% or only (roughly) one in five Canadians are eligible for being prime minister or governor-general and the rest 82.5% of the populace is getting more disinterested in learning a secondary French or English language.

Also to mention is the immigrants who come from France and other Francophone nations from Asia (like some parts of Vietnam and India) or Africa also, by the most part speak English. But for immigrants coming from, say India, then they would have to be burdened by learning French to attain those (important and high-profile) government jobs (considering that Indians are also fluent in their native language and English).

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    "having fluency in English and French is mandatory (In government jobs)." [citation needed] Fluency in English and French is not mandatory for government jobs, not even federal government jobs. Certain positions require bilingualism, and these positions are designated as such. Typically these are managerial positions and/or positions in a designated bilingual region: canada.ca/en/public-service-commission/jobs/services/gc-jobs/…
    – Wolfgang
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 19:36
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    Please provide link to support "fluency in English and French is mandatory for ... prime minister". Practically, with 25% of pparlaiments's House seats in Que, (plus more in NB), your party likely does not stand a chance if your party leader (eventual PM) if they do not speak French and can't get their message across. btw: PM need not even be a member of Parliament, merely leader of the elected party.
    – Ian W
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 5:13
  • What do you mean by "government post"? That seems like a very vague term which could make the title misleading/inaccurate.
    – JMac
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 12:21
  • Comments deleted. Please focus the comments on improving the question, not debating it.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 15:28
  • 6
    @Rohit-hari. No requirement exist either PM or GG be bilingual otherwise Steven Harper would not have had a choice. Provide citation to requirement if you know of one. Provide link to actual StatsCan data. Provide citation "82.5% of the populace is getting more disinterested in learning a secondary language". Unrelated statements "lack of growth in bilingualism ", "students in (FSL) programs was shrinking". Really,entire question seems to be non-sequiter. Clarify.
    – Ian W
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:45

7 Answers 7


Canada is an officially bilingual country, and federal government business can be conducted in either English or French.

The government wants to preserve the bilingual nature of the country, and is well aware that, if it drops the requirement for French, then English will dominate even more than it already does. It is precisely because most people speak English as a first or second language, and fewer people speak French that the government has these rules. It is because the number of people taking French as a second language is dropping that the govenment wants to push against this trend by requiring French for government positions. If you don't like this, then don't work for the Canadian federal government.

The question of India is irrelevant to Canada. If Indians don't learn French, that is a matter for India. The language policies of Canada are not based on what is convenient for India.

  • 2
    While gman's comment is hyperbole, his/her point is a good one; it's really offensive to dismiss a concern about Canadians from India with the statement that "The question of India is irrelevant to Canada." Canadians from India are Canada's concern, not India's.
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 21:48
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    @ruakh fair point. But would it be reasonable for Canada to adopt specific measures to prevent the (highly hypothetical) handicap of Indian immigrants compared to, say, the Algerian ones? Especially when the handicap is the inability to hold a handful of government positions, which certainly require a lot of other qualifications.
    – IMil
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 1:30
  • @IMil: When considering a requirement, it's wise to consider what its effects will be, and to examine whether the same goals can be achieved in a way that reduces the adverse effects. If an English-French bilingualism requirement is met by disproportionately few immigrants, then it's worth considering if it's worth it.
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 2:31
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    "If you don't like this, then don't work for the Canadian federal government." Or vote for people who will change the policy. :)
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 10:44
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    @ruakh Canadians from India are Canada's concerns; but that has little to do with the language concerns, which is the "question of India" being discussed in this case. If specific languages are required for government positions, it's up to individuals to be qualified for the jobs, not up to the government to make the job qualifications match the skills of anyone who might want the positions.
    – JMac
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 13:21

Edit: The question title was changed. Previously, it was:

Why does Canada require mandatory bilingualism in all government posts?

Canada doesn't require bilingualism in all government posts.

Firstly, the federal government provides services in both official languages, but other levels of government don't necessarily. At the provincial level, Quebec is French and New Brunswick is bilingual, while all the other provinces are English, whether officially or not, but provide at least some services in French. For example Ontario has 26 designated areas where services must be available in French. Municipalities may also have their own language policies. For example the City of Ottawa is bilingual, in addition to being one of Ontario's designated bilingual areas.

Secondly, the federal government doesn't require bilingualism in all posts. Some jobs are unilingual English or unilingual French.

  • It is important to note that Ottawa is the capital of Canada and is located in the Ontario province.
    – David S
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 21:54
  • @DavidS How so? For context? I mean Ottawa's not unique just because it's the capital. Other cities are bilingual, like Moncton, NB and Kirkland, QC. Note that I already said Ottawa is in Ontario.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 22:04
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    My apologies, you did note it was in Ontario. I would disagree with cities not being unique just because they're the capital, but I'd rather not discuss it. It is unique in that it Ottawa has roughly 1/3 of all of Canada's federal employees.
    – David S
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 23:33
  • @DavidS Ah, I misunderstood what you were getting at. I do think it's significant that the federal capital is bilingual, yes.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 23:54

Few countries these days make things convenient for immigrants, and many go out of their way to make it difficult, inconvenient, expensive, or even lethal. It's not as difficult as it could be; there's not a mandatory French language test to achieve residence, for example.

Historically, Canada speaks French for the same reason as Latin America speaks Spanish and Portuguese: it was the language of the colonizers. Canada was a French colony until the 1763 Treaty of Paris when it was surrendered to the UK. The province of Quebec has remained majority French-speaking. The language is highly political, and the organisation OQLF officially promotes the use of French.

Removing the French requirements would be perceived as a huge insult by the French language community. It might cause Quebec to become independent; the last referendum on the subject was an extremely small majority for Remain.

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    I believe the first paragraph is not really relevant to the answer. Canada is relatively welcoming to immigrants and the requirement has nothing to do with making immigration difficult.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 7:34
  • English comes from britain colonitzation, that's a point you leave out of the argument. A Bilingual country can ask for public positions to speak both official languages. Does USA require people to speak English?
    – flaixman
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 9:48
  • @flaixman The UK certainly does: gov.uk/english-language
    – pjc50
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 10:02

Oh boy. This is a politics forum but I don't want to turn this into a debate.

The OP's question title says "Why does Canada require mandatory bilingualism in all government posts?".

The body then says, "having fluency in English and French is mandatory (In government jobs)". It then goes on with some dubious Math and unrelated conjoined statements which are NOT "proven".

(disclaimer: I could not sit through the video, regret trying, would not encourage you to boost his views either)

To answer the title's question, it's the law and official government policy to make official government communications available in both official languages and for the right of individual citizens to conduct official Federal government business in either official language. You need bilingual staff to support that position.

It is also the law in the Province of New Brunswick. This is extended to a third official language in the territory of Nunavut. In short, it's the law and not subject to popular choice, convenience or shifting demographics.

There is plenty of opinion on the merits and value on the language policy (which I'll not get into), but it goes beyond "the law":

As a result of section 16 in the Charter, the Official Languages Act was amended and strengthened by the Mulroney government in 1988, leading the Federal Court of Appeal to observe:

"The 1988 Official Languages Act is not an ordinary statute. It reflects both the Constitution of the country and the social and political compromise out of which it arose…[I]t belongs to that privileged category of quasi-constitutional legislation which reflects ”certain basic goals of our society” and must be so interpreted ”as to advance the broad policy considerations underlying it.”"

In other words, bilingualism is a core tenet of what make's Canada, Canada.

It is also NOT a requirement for all federal civil servants to be bi-lingual, though it certainly helps prospective candidates

That contradicts the OP's claim,

only 17.5% of Canada is eligible for government posts

I happen to know many non-bilingual federal employees. If you have the skills required to fulfill the posting and are the most qualified candidate, you will likely get it. You may even be provided or be reimbursed French Language training.

To counter the unrelated conjecture,

... 83.5% of the populace is getting more uninterested in learning a secondary French or English language.

In Canada's Westernmost province (uni-lingual English), British Columbia (where the YouTuber is from, also never heard of him and his claim of " news commentator for television and radio"), it has been reported:

While general enrolment has declined, the number students in French Immersion has significantly increased. Enrolment in French immersion programs has increased by 89.4% since 2000–01

And they can't get enough teachers to fulfill demand, so demand outstrips supply.

To throw in a totally unrelated fact from the same report,

"full-time equivalent student enrolment in English language learning (ELL) programs increased by 17.4%".

Meanwhile, a news story reported in over 10% of Metro Vancouver (BC) schools, the majority of students are "English Language Learners", their primarily language being something other than English (and likely not French).

  • The facts and numbers actually are coming from the Canadian statistics website.
    – Rohit Hari
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 13:00
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    As I've been thinking about this question, I've thought about "You need bilingual staff to support that position." It's probably not true, actually, but you'd have to hire a lot more people to provide bilingual services if you didn't hire bilingual staff. It would not be cost effective in the least, especially in parts of the country where speakers of one language are few.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 14:03
  • @phoog I see the potential issue that if you had two people doing the same job in different languages, they would very likely need to cooperate to some degree, and if one spoke only French and the other only English this would be an issue.
    – Vality
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 18:52
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    @vitaly, it goes beyond people doing the same job in different languages. You have "equal standing" before the courts. There have even been constitutional challenges based on the interpretation and plain meaning between English and French variants of (I forget which ) the Charter of Rights or the Constitution. The law and your rights should not be different based on the language of interpretation. That goes all the way down to clerk helping you at a counter.
    – Ian W
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:04
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    This answer does a good job of explaining why many government services jobs need bilingual people, but it doesn't seem to address the need for politicians like the PM or other minister-level positions to be so. There's a big political difference between 18% of the population being potentially eligible to hold a service position vs. only 18% of the population being potentially eligible to hold high-level policy-making offices.
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 10:59

The Canadian federal government requires bilingualism in a number of institutions, including some (not all) federal government posts. The reason is historical, but still relevant today.

Parts of Canada were first colonized during the 16th century by French people. During the 17th century, the British established many colonies further south and took increasing interest in territories to the north. The French and the British fought a number of wars, and eventually, with the treaty of Paris in 1763, the French no longer controlled any part of what is now known as Canada: it was a British colony.

At the time, French speakers made up the majority of the population of Canada: approximately 30,000 English speakers in 1791 vs 140,000 French speakers (and that's after many Loyalists fled from colonies that had revolted against and become independent from the British empire; I can't seem to find estimates for 1763). (Also, about 80,000 natives.) The British had the upper hand militarily and the French government wasn't very interested in North America, but the French speakers in Canada had little reason to be loyal to the British government, their historical enemy. The British wanted to assimilate the French speakers, notably through the Royal Proclamation of 1763, but due to the population imbalance, this was unrealistic.

So the British gave French speakers some leeway. With the Quebec Act in 1774, they allowed the mostly French-speaking Quebecois to keep their religion, to keep some of their legal customs, and to be involved in their government (perpetuating the power structures from the French colonial days). And the British did not try to impose the English language either. In return, the French speakers were loyal to the British crown.

Although Canada is an independent democracy now, with freedom of religion and (in principle) equal political participation for all, cultural factors are still strong. Quebec has an independentist movement, and has held two referendums on independence, in 1980 and 1995. Independence lost both times, but that's not because the Quebecois have been assimilated into the now English-speaking majority. A majority of Quebecois remain loyal to Canada because Canada allows them to keep their culture, and the French language is a very important element of that.

Canada is Canada because it puts French and English on an equal footing for official purposes, regardless of the population ratio.


There seem to be some misunderstandings here. I'll start with clearing them up.

Canada is officially bilingual, and has been since its founding. French in Canada is a minority language, and part of the founding compromises was that the central government would support that people who speak French would be able to function in public society. They had a fear, pretty justified, that without central support their language and culture would go away; before joining a larger government, they wanted some security against that happening.

This also led to some other compromises, like the location of the capital. If you are familiar with US history, the Washington DC compromise (on the border of the North and South) was similar.

The requirement on Federal government jobs to speak French (and English) is:

  1. In a communication job, the Federal Government must be able to communicate in both French and English with the public. Both are equally official and full featured. The Federal Government must also provide full services to the public in both French and English.

  2. As a Federal Government worker, outside of communicating with the public and supervising other workers, you are free to choose if you work in English or French.

But point 2 means that as a supervisor of Federal Government workers, you must be able to work in both English and French. Otherwise your reporters will be forced to learn your language to work under you.

This means that most non-supervisory workers don't need to be Bilingual. People in communications posts and service posts either need to be, or the task needs to be split with someone who is fluent in the other language; there are people whose job it is to have enough expertise to translate/copy edit translations of subject-specific press releases, for example.

In a sense, this is a Workers and Citizens rights issue. Citizens freedoms are viewed as more important than Workers freedoms, who is viewed as more important than Managers freedoms (to live using the language of their choice).

Canada's immigrants come from a mixture of English, French (mostly ex-colonial holdings) and non-English/French speaking countries at this point.

English is the dominant language in media, due to the global bias towards English and that the majority of the country speaks it. French is probably second place. Immigrants are significantly more likely to learn English as a second language than French, especially outside of Quebec.

There is no formal requirement than the PM speak French in the law. It is custom, and not being able to speak the first language of 25% of the Citizens of the country would be rude and electoral suicide. (Many marginally fluent people who want to be PM take extensive language training "on their own time".) The jobs where the law demands you speak both fluently are civil service jobs, which are rarely described as "high profile".

The Governor General is a figure head (and an emergency Government escape pod), and is expected to be fluent for political reasons.

Ministers (politicians a step under the Prime Minister) are expected to be somewhat fluent, and to spend significant effort improving if they aren't. They communicate with their civil service organizations via their Deputy Minister, a Civil Servant, who is going to be functionally bilingual; but if a Deputy Minister is in the news, it isn't usually a good thing: either they screwed up badly, or are resigning in protest over a government action. So I wouldn't call them "high-profile".

In the Federal Government, people who want to be upwardly mobile into the executive are expected to put significant effort into learning the other official language. The Civil Service even pays for classes, sometimes including immersion training (less often nowadays, it was too expensive) to teach people to be able to work effectively in both languages.

It is a significant investment, but except in exceptional situations, is more than a decade between entering the Civil Service and reaching a position where you would be expected to be able to supervise other employees in both languages. A concerted effort over a decade will permit most people to pick up at least halting fluency in a second language; if your supervisors consider you worth investing in, they can fund you for further intense language training.

The shortest time I know of that someone made it from halting "high school" French to fluent (according to the tests) was a week, but that was a 6-language fluent linguist who knew multiple romance languages. Usually it is many months of study or longer.

Now, due to the higher chance people whose first language is French to be bilingual in English than vice-versa, this means that more Francophones work in the public service (as a percent of their population) than Anglophones. It also means than in Canada's capital city, 80%+ of Anglophone elementary school children are in French Immersion, spending 75%+ of their instructional time being taught in French.

For Immigrants from India, the government of Canada offers subsidized "ESL" and "FSL" courses you can take as an adult, both to migrants and to the general population. It is a lot of work. Immigrants from areas that speak neither French nor English generally put that work in in order to be able to work and live in the country; they are, in a sense, worse off than Indians.


From both these excerpts it is said that 17.5% or only (roughly) one in five Canadians are eligible for being prime minister or governor-general

If you are unwilling or unable to learn a second language, then you should probably seek another job than Prime Minister, since you will automatically alienate 20% of the population, making it difficult to actually do your job. For the record, former PMs Joe Clark, Stephen Harper, Kim Campbell and John Turner were not raised in bilingual households.

There is no requirement for the Governor-General to be bilingual. Traditionally, the post has been assigned alternatively to Anglo- and Francophones, but in recent years, we have enjoyed bilingual speakers as our head of state.

  • Its worth noting that one of the bilingual governors general was an immigrant from Haiti. She did immigrate as a child, however, so she was educated partly in Canada.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 14:29
  • Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General of Canada, it should be noted came as a child from Haiti which is a member of the Francophonie countries and where Haitian Creole and French are the two official languages.
    – civitas
    Commented Mar 11 at 16:54

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