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Federal and provincial bilingualism requirements cost Canadian taxpayers $2.4 billion annually; provinces spend $900 million to provide dual-language services

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Release Date: January 16, 2012
MONTREAL, QC—Canada’s 10 provinces spend nearly $900 million annually providing bilingual government services. Including the $1.5 billion the federal government spends on bilingualism, Canadian taxpayers are footing an annual bill of $2.4 billion for bilingual services, a cost of $85 per Canadian.

This breakdown on the costs of bilingualism are contained in a new report, Official Language Policies of the Canadian Provinces Costs and Benefits, released today by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading policy research think-tank.

“The issue we examine in this study is not whether bilingualism is good or bad policy, but the costs above and beyond that of providing education and other services in the majority language,” said François Vaillancourt, Université de Montréal economics professor and co-author of the study.

“When provincial spending on bilingualism is combined with federal spending, we see a total cost of $2.4 billion to Canadian taxpayers.”

The study concludes that provinces with large francophone populations and a substantial number of government services provided in French could offer those services at a lower cost by contracting them out to the private sector on a user-pay basis.

The study examines the costs and benefits of official language policies of the 10 provinces, including how much each province spends on providing services in French to a francophone minority. In Quebec’s case, the report looked at the cost of providing services in English to the anglophone minority. The study is a follow-up to the 2009 report Official Language Policies at the Federal Level in Canada: Costs and Benefits in 2006.

Language rights for most provinces stem from the 1982 adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 23. However, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec are either subject to supplementary constitutional requirements and/or have provincial legislation that provides additional language rights protection above Section 23 of the charter while Ontario has relevant provincial legislation.

Of the 10 provinces, Ontario and New Brunswick have large linguistic minorities (francophones) while Quebec has a large anglophone minority. Francophone populations in the remaining seven provinces are all quite small.

Ontario spends $623 million annually – the most among all provinces – in providing services in French to its francophone minority. New Brunswick has the second largest budget for minority language services, $85 million, followed by Quebec at $50 million.

With large linguistic minorities and a substantial number of government services provided to these minorities in their native language, these three provinces could reduce the costs for taxpayers by making greater use of the private sector for translations.

Of the remaining provinces, Alberta spends $33 million on bilingual services ($534.70 per francophone), B.C. spends $23 million ($426.90 per francophone), Nova Scotia spends $18 million ($540.10 per francophone), Manitoba spends $16 million ($410.20 per francophone), Saskatchewan spends $9.65 million ($640.50 per francophone), Prince Edward Island spends $5.1 million ($946.20 per francophone), and Newfoundland and Labrador spends $3.4 million ($1780.30 per francophone).

In most provinces, a substantial portion of the money spent on bilingual services comes in the form of providing French-language education.


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