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Monday, November 28, 2005

"Pardon our French"

We’ll start a thread here about Ric Dolphin’s column “Pardon our French” posted on our site this morning (as we did on Friday with the Report on Bilingualism).

Posted by westernstandard on November 28, 2005 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


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I take the opportunity to comment on Rick Dolphin article on Québec.

I see he is angry. But this article is not from a historian. To understand the behavior of people we need to consider where the people came from. Most of them came here because they were unwanted in France for various reasons, often for breaking the law. French people at the beginning of the colony just could not picture themselves navigating over this dangerous ocean only to live with snow and Indians.

I think Québec was not such a bad place as long as they were respecting God and morality. Sure they have their defaults but they also have their qualities. No question that they have very skilled politicians. And pretty good athletes. Go and see Maurice Richard movie. And restaurants and food is great. French Canadians can even say they have a mogul now: Paul Desmarais.

Visit also New Brunswick. Acadians are nice people, even if they were treated with great injustice by the conqueror.

We could try to find why Canada is in such a bad shape. Rick Dolphin seem to say it is Québec's fault. Sorry but I don't think so. It may be part of the problem now. But it may also be part of the solution later.

I suggest we keep trying.

I suggest one way of improving the situation is bringing back the Gospel in Québec. I know many Québec Christians and I can assure that M. Dolphin would like them! Come on M. Dolphin it is not that bad. Take a look in other countries.

Posted by: Rémi houle | 2005-11-28 11:13:04 AM

The point of the article is the dangerous political infrastructure that Canada has established. Effectively, with bilingualism, Canada has disempowered the overwhelming majority of its population. The majority of Canadians have no opportunity, ever, of being judges, deputy ministers, major political roles, heads of national institutions - eg banks, archives, libraries, museums, art galleries, military, heads of research funding agencies, directors of various public institutions, etc, etc.
To deprive the majority of a population from power - is dangerous. Canada is an oligarchy; we have set up a system where the qualifications for power are held within a closed TRIBE.

What Canada did, was to set up a 'criterion' which each individual must have, in order to gain political and economic power in Canada. The problem with this criterion was that it is not, and never will be, a universal attribute. We didn't, for example, say as did the USA - that 'all people are equal'. We said the opposite; we said that 'Some have the right to power' and 'Most do not have the right to power'. We rejected equality, because our criteria for individuals to become authorities - in anything - in Canada, rest on qualities that are not universal. You have to be bilingual.

Some say - so what? Isn't that great - we all should learn several languages!
Fine - but reality isn't an ideal notion. Reality is what exists, now, on the street. A society must build its laws and political institutions within reality. Not within ideals. We cannot say that - In order to be a Powerful Person in Canada, you must be able to speak Three languages and Be a Hockey Player. We have to acknowledge reality. We cannot REQUIRE something of people, which they do not have, easily, and readily, in their own reality.

Canadians are not bilingual; the majority are unilingual. You cannot become bilingual just within a textbook; it has to be used. Daily. On the street, in the store, in the mall, at work.

By setting up bilingualism as an official requirement, Canada has not only wasted enormous sums of money - in education, in translations, but in requirements for bilingual services even when never used (all flights in Canada), postal services, etc, etc.

And - disempowered the majority of its citizens, who, by virtue of never hearing the 'other language' have not become bilingual. And therefore, no matter how qualified - can never become a supreme court judge, never become a deputy minister, never become the head or even minor manager of any federal gov't service. That's outrageous.
But- that's what Canada has done to its people.

Then, as will always happen when you set up a restrictive criterion for membership in a group, the group will further define the criteria and close its membership to 'its own type'. Therefore, you could, indeed, learn French on your own, somewhere in a small town in Alberta, but, you'd never be accepted into the Clique that Governs this Country. Your French isn't 'pure'; you aren't a 'natural blonde'.

Can you imagine the US - where the percentages of Spanish to English are about the same as French to English in Canada - can you imagine the US setting up official bilingualism of Spanish-English? There'd be a revolution, for no American is going to be deprived of the right to serve and to be 'in political office'. No American is going to have their economy hamstrung by handing it over to Spanish-Americans rather than to ALL Americans. No American would waste their money on a requirement that everything has to be translated into two languages. Nor would it put up with a state in the USA which took people who used the Other Language (English) to court..as does Quebec.

What Canada has done - is dangerous. This idealistic, romantic, naive notion of Let's All Speak Two Languages is nonsense UNLESS, UNLESS, you actually, on the street, do indeed speak two languages. But- when you never hear that other language,for a gov't to INSIST that you MUST - well, no Communist state or Hussein dictatorship could do better..than Canada has done with its disempowerment of its citizens.

Posted by: ET | 2005-11-28 11:52:33 AM

The best argument for a separate Quebec is the simple fact that Martin, Chretien, Gagliano, Power Corp, the GG, Trudeau's brats and many other undesirables would be foreigners who wouldn't be eligible for Canadian office.

Vote Oui!

Posted by: Warwick | 2005-11-28 12:07:07 PM

Great post, ET.
Look at the lower mainland of BC. There are far, far more Mandarin-speaking residents than French-speaking ones, so official bilingualism makes no sense there.

Remi, I think you misunderstood the article. I speak French, I love Acadie and Quebec. But, I don't think it's fair for all of these gov positions to have to be bilingual. Why not have unilingual French employees adn unilingual English employees? Even for a minister it is not an issue with translation technology.

Posted by: Charlotte | 2005-11-28 12:12:29 PM

Exactly, Charlotte. Outside of Quebec (and NB), French is just about the smallest percentage of the minority languages. Chinese in BC - and German and Ukrainian in the West are dominant. Yet - we all must pay for French personnel in these areas!!

As I said, a government must base its rules on reality, on what is 'real' among the population. French is not 'real' among the majority and to insist that it be, and that we pay for it- is unacceptable. To further insist that we cannot move into key positions of government, unless we speak that language - disempower us, the citizens.

I don't think Quebec should 'separate', primarily because I don't think that separate nations, in our global network, make much sense.

I do think that Quebec should 'defederalize' itself - and so should the rest of Canada. Split the centralist Ottawa-Montreal dominated federation into five or six self-governing domains, loosely federated together. Quebec would be unilingual and would be one domain. The Maritimes - another domain. Get the feds out of there and let them develop themselves. The West with or without BC would be another domain. Again- get the feds out. Ontario another domain. The North.
The central federation would be drastically reduced - to defense, to communications, transportation ..etc. I think that's much more sensible and realistic than this Welfare State, Nanny-State that we now have.

What we now have - is actually preventing Canada from economic development.

Posted by: ET | 2005-11-28 12:52:31 PM

Decentralization isn't an option. Too many provinces demand equalization and believe this to be a "right." There is also regional pork and redistribution in every other federal spending area. The economic basket-case regions would have a fit.

It would be a viable solution if you could sell it but you can't. The Maritimes, NFLD, MB, and most of all QC would never tolerate the taps of Ontario's and Alberta's money coming to an end.

Small state solutions work just fine. Monaco and Luxemburg not being the only ones.

Posted by: Warwick | 2005-11-28 1:22:10 PM

ET, this sounds like The Nine Nations of North America but on a local Canadian scale.


Posted by: Maple stump | 2005-11-28 1:38:44 PM

Warwick - if Quebec separates, the 'taps' of Ontario and Alberta also would run dry. If they wouldn't or couldn't tolerate it within decentralization, then, they couldn't tolerate it within separation! Therefore, you are saying that neither separation nor decentralization would work!

Your examples of 'single states' are really not comparable to a presumed Nation of Quebec. Monaco is essentially a town - of 2 sq. km, with a population of about 32,000. Luxembourg has about 2,500 sq. km..and a population of 450,000. These are quite old territories, with deep economic and kin and political links with neighbouring countries (France, Belgium, Germany etc) and simply can't be compared with Quebec - with its vast territory, population of 7.5 million and the type of economy it requires (manufacturing, industrial, raw resource production, farming, etc...nothing to do with Monaco's tourism or Luxembourg's reliance on cross-border workers.

I'll stick with decentralization. Again, my reason is that I think the era of the separate nation-state is over. I think that the Maritime's economy has to move out of a 'fake economy', propped up by welfare and make-work federally funded projects, and the economy has to be returned to the power of the people who live there.

Posted by: ET | 2005-11-28 1:41:56 PM

Some countries succeeded in implementing many languages. I think of Switzerland. Some did not and had to split: Belgium, Chekoslovaquia.

Obviously the way languages are treated in Canada doesn't work except for French Canadians in Government. This and other problems point out to the need of change in the structure of our country.

How many Canadians are ready to change the structure of our country?

Posted by: Rémi houle | 2005-11-28 1:44:19 PM

The Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, based in Halifax, are proponents of the idea of "Atlantica", which you would like, ET. I love this idea, as it would join the four Atlantic provinces into one self-sufficient province.

There is a lot of opposition to this type of idea, but I believe it is as inevitable as the changes you suggest in your post, ET. Currently all four provinces have humongous deficits and debts, as well as fairly socialized economies and economic stagnation.
A fact rarely discussed on this blog (or by the Liberal elite) is that a significant percentage of Alberta voters are Maritimers as so many of us are forced to move West to work.

Posted by: charlotte | 2005-11-28 1:49:56 PM

I agree Warwick it won’t be an easy sell. But the fact is, the existing fiscal imbalance isn’t working either and even a Liberal like McGuinty says so. He speaks for 12.5 million people and over 40% of Canada’s GDP. Hopefully, McGuinty will soon lose to John Tory and the Ponzi scheme of “equality” amongst the Provinces and Ottawa will certainly end.

We have slipped into a mode where the baby boomers have assumed that they have their entitlements/insurance guaranteed with 2 levels of government, which makes them feel safer.
But over time, in the process, the Provinces and Ottawa have each shirked their accountabilities and blamed the other level for problems.
Health Care being the best example of that - wait time problems?

The Provinces respond with: Ottawa needs to give us more money.
Ottawa responds with: we gave the Provinces more money, the Provinces have to deliver the services, we don’t do that.

Meanwhile the lines get longer and this is before the baby boomers bodies really start to fall apart. Inevitable changes in Heath Care will kill the notion of “equality” otherwise it will bankrupt us.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2005-11-28 2:01:55 PM

Maple Stump - that's an interesting comparison; I'd never heard of the Nine Nations.

He seems to have divided the entire area up, more or less, ecologically and economically. He IS acknowledging local realities - the nature of the environment, the type of economy that could develop in that env't (fishing, heavy industry, large scale grain and meat production etc)...

I'd hesitate to define a nation by one mode of economic production, but there's no need for a domain to remain in a single mode. But- it's an interesting and very valid comparison. My five or six domains in Canada have strong similarities. The Maritimes, Quebec, the West (with or without BC), Ontario, the North.

A key point I'm also making is that I don't think that a large geographic area should be governed as 'one'. People live in regions, local areas, and the economy and lifestyle adapts to those regions. So, I'm in favour of decentralized gov't that acknowledges this local reality and that empowers the local people over that domain. The central gov't shouldn't be the boss of the local domain.

Yes, you can get 'too local' - but - you can get 'too central'. Canada is too centralized.

Remi- yes, Belgium had to split. They were close to civil war. It's quite something to be on the train from Brussels to Liege. You start out, with the signs flashing in the train - all in Flemish. Then, suddenly, they switch, and the signs are all in French. The same town - suddenly has a different name! Luid (I think, can't remember) becomes Liege! Czechoslovakia split into two countries, not merely linguistic sections of one country (as in Belgium). So- you have the Czech Republic (where I was warmly acknowledged because my last name is the same as the designer of the famed 12 century clock in Prague)..and you have Slovakia.

I opt for Canadian decentralization. I think Canada is too geographically large for a central gov't. Remember, the US is decentralized into States, and those States have a LOT of power. Bush, for instance, couldn't send the National Guard into New Orleans - until the Governor accepted and she was balking about it.

Posted by: ET | 2005-11-28 2:03:09 PM


I agree to both your points. Equilization can't last. But Quebec will not stay if they aren't bribed so they'll go. They may go anyway.

Any way you slice it, the country hasn't been viable for the simple reason that we don't share the same values between any area of the country.

Decentralization would work only if the have-not provinces would accept the taps turned off. They won't.

Ergo, the country will most likely break up into several parts. With QC out first or second, the east would be cut off from Ontario and the West. Alberta may not chose to partner up with a new country from Ontario to BC because of the disproportionate amount of population in Onatario. It's bad enough now, cut half the country out and it wouldn't be feasable - at least unless you split up Ontario into a few smaller provinces and enacted a EEE senate. Even then a lot people are bitter (due to Liberal Party damage) and may chose a fresh start alone.

Crap, no time to proof, gotta go. I apologize if this is incoherent.

Posted by: Warwick | 2005-11-28 2:58:24 PM

The official bilingualism you,re upset about is trudeauism - Quebeckers have been voting against it since the 1982 constitution, federally.
A strong majority of francophone Quebeckers prefers Quebec soveraignty to this fake bilingualism. The federal bilingualism also damages Quebec's development by many manoeuvers against Quebec identity within Quebec.
Canadians don't like it, Quebeckers don't like it.
The real solution is Quebec independence : to each nation its country, and then we'll get along as good NAFTA partners.
That's the real deal ! The real way to escape the whole Ottawa nonsense and to allow both nations to move on.

Posted by: Rick | 2005-11-28 3:07:59 PM

I was just looking in Wikipedia and the Swiss nat'l websites and couldn't find anything with the searches I was running (in English or French), but found this under "Switzerland : Demographics" at Wikipedia:
The federal government is obliged to communicate in the three official languages. In the federal parliament, German, French and Italian are the official languages and simultaneous translation is provided.. . . Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so most Swiss are at least bilingual. English is considered by some as a Swiss lingua franca, and most Swiss people have some command of English; many Swiss documents and websites are available in English.
I couldn't find out if you have to be "officially" "bilingual" and what that might constitute, to join the civil service or higher echelons of gov't there. An interesting question. However, if everyone ends up using a non-native language (i.e., English) to get on, well, that's hardly going to solve Canada's problems, unless you all learn Esperanto or something. (Hey, maybe not a bad idea . . . just kidding, my husband's a "Red Dwarf" fan.)

I caution against comparing French & English in Canada to Spanish & English in the U.S. From the founding, English has been the language of the U.S.; just because the current largest immigrant group (by far!) speaks Spanish doesn't mean we'll change things. By the second generation (of born-in-America) most Americans from Spanish-speaking origins (as well as those from any other language groups) have switched to English for primary communication, and it's not uncommon for 2nd gen Americans to have none of the original language (besides some nouns and adjectives, and a few isolated phrases). I know plenty of people named Rodriguez, Garcia, Martinez, who are my age and whose grandparents came from Mexico but whose Spanish is less adept than mine is. --Now: Is this even remotely similar to the sitch with French in Canada? Sooner or later, mass emigration to the U.S. from Latin America will end, but Canada will still be Canada, with her "two solitudes".

Sorry I haven't provided any answers. I'll be even more of a crank and add that the Frenchies aren't doing themselves any favors by allowing their birthrates to go down, down, down. You can't import people from Haiti and Côte d'Ivoire forever. Québec - and bilingualism - won't vive very long if that keeps up.

Posted by: Meg Q | 2005-11-28 4:05:08 PM

I think we’re making this too complicated.

If Harper says to the Provinces:
“ we’re dropping taxes federally and we’re no longer going to pretend we’re responsible for 80% (I’m guessing) of governmental expenditures – Health and Education – so you Provinces go ahead and raise taxes to cover off what Ottawa has heretofore been trying to bribe you with”
– why would any Province be discouraged by that?

Ontario is almost 45% of the economy and we know even McGuinty wants to change things, so that Ontario can be more self-sufficient. And we suspect that Harper has already talked to him about it.

Alberta and BC together make up about 25% of the economy, they are growing and I think they’d like that too.

Quebec is declining, down to 22 % of the economy, both Bouchard and Charest agree on what has to be done; i.e. essentially deal with demographics, recognize the massive debt problems and that the bully Government Unions need to be vanquished and last but not least, that Quebecers need to learn English and get ready for India and China who will wipe us all out if we’re not ready. This Bouchard Manifesto, with a few adjustments, could apply to varying degrees for all of Canada…


The rest of the country adds up to about 10% of GDP (I’m not sure of my math, maybe it’s 15%) and those regions need a mayor not 6 expensive Legislatures (sorry to offend regions that have fine Canadian citizens).

So let’s get on with devolution. It might work.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2005-11-28 5:31:37 PM

No offence taken, nomdenet. NB, NS, and PEI really would be better served by a single legislature instead of three (I think adding NL to the mix is a non-starter due to the geography), but you've got the Acadian problem in NB. They'd never agree to any union that didn't result in a bilingual province, but such a union makes absolutely no sense for NS & PEI. NS & PEI can't join just by ourselves; there's no year-round link directly between the two save airplanes and I imagine Islanders would feel like they'd just be getting swallowed -- they'd probably feel that way regardless, but I think they could be convinced to go along if both NB & NS were on board.

Then you'd get a round of bickering over where to put the capital. The logical choice is centrally-located Moncton, but that would drive a stake through Fredericton's economy (lots of government jobs there). Halifax would fare all right without a provincial government but would still argue the capital should be here since it's the largest. Not sure how much of Charlottetown's economy is government-based, but it'd probably be a good shock to them too.

If you could start over from scratch you'd make it all into one, but too much inertia and vested interests to do it now, methinks.

Posted by: Ian in NS | 2005-11-28 7:46:54 PM

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