Canada has two official languages, but the reality is that the vast majority of francophones live in the province of Québec. In the four western provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, and British-Columbia, between 2 and 4% of the population report French as their mother tongue, while somewhere between 5 and 9% can conduct a conversation in French. Being such a small portion of the population, francophone entrepreneurs may have difficulties setting up businesses in this region, but there is help available from governmental organizations and private ones.
Government Resources for Francophones in Western Canada
The main governmental resources for francophone businesses are supported by the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification Canada. This department aims to promote the development and diversification of the economy of western Canada and to advance the interests of the west in national economic policy, and program and project development and implementation. As such, one of the areas it focuses on is language diversification.
In April 2001, WEDC became the umbrella organization providing support for the four provincial Francophone Economic Development Organizations. The role of FEDOs is to enhance the vitality of minority language communities in western Canada and assist in their economic development. There is a FEDO in each province:
- British Columbia: Société de développement économique de la Colombie-Britannique
- Alberta: Conseil de développement économique de l’Alberta
- Saskatchewan: Conseil de la Coopération de la Saskatchewan; its website is only available in French
- Manitoba: Conseil de développement économique des municipalités bilingues du Manitoba
All four of these organizations provide services and resources, in French, to help entrepreneurs establish themselves in their local communities. They offer services in French to both established businesses and to new entrepreneurs, including business development programs, training programs, business and community economic development, access to capital, information services, marketing advice, networking and mentoring.
There are also several private organizations that may be helpful when establishing a new business or trying to grow an existing one in the western market. Some of the larger francophone communities have established chambers of commerce, such as the Chambre de commerce francophone de Saint-Boniface outside of Winnipeg, and the Chambre de commerce francophone de Vancouver.
These and other local chambers of commerce provide networking opportunities to their members and often host luncheons or lectures in French. They also serve as the political voice of their members, promoting their interests with local, provincial, and even federal government entities.
On a broader scale, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada is an organization specifically dedicated to serving as the national and international voice of more than 2.6 million French-speaking Canadians living in nine provinces and three territories, outside of Québec. Of special interest to business people, both those looking to recruit employees or those searching for new opportunities, the organization’s website has a section advertising job opportunities in francophone communities in Canada.