Sunday, January 15, 2017

They Have To Speak French

Back in the 1990's -- when Preston Manning burst on the scene -- a new kind of sign sprouted on lawns in my neck of the woods. Its message was blunt: "No more prime ministers from Quebec." The sign's unstated assumption was that French is spoken only in la belle province. But, when Brian Mulroney was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Stephen Maher writes, that he

liked to tell Conservatives that they had to choose a leader who could speak both languages. “There are 102 ridings in the country with a francophone population over 10 per cent,” he said. “In the last election the Liberals won 100 of them, we won two. You give Pierre Trudeau a head start of 100 seats and he’s going to beat you 10 times out of 10.”

New Brunswick is our only officially bilingual province. Manitoba has a significant French population. And northern Alberta also has a a significant number of French communities. That's why Maher maintains that, if the Conservatives choose a leader who can't speak French, they'll lose. His or her French doesn't have to be perfect:

It is not necessary to speak both languages as well as the Trudeaus, Mulroney or Tom Mulcair. Stephen Harper never captured the music of the langue de Molière, and Jack Layton’s Montreal street French sometimes sounded too folksy, but both politicians were able to express themselves, which is what is necessary.

It works the same the other way. Jean Chretien’s English was not elegant, but he could communicate enough effectively to hammer home his point.

Chretien's syntax could be just as fractured in French as it was in English. But the message was always the same -- and Canadians knew it.

What does that mean for the Conservative candidates?  In the upcoming French only debate:

Chris Alexander will be good, and Michael Chong, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole ought to be able to unspool some talking points, but Brad Trost, Kellie Leitch and Lisa Raitt face de facto disqualification if they parler Français comme une vache Espagnole.

The same rule will apply to whomever the New Democrats choose to be their leader. Prime Ministers don't have to come from Quebec. But they have to speak French.

Image: J.J's Complete Guide To Canada


Toby said...

Ideally, a Canadian Prime Minister should speak all of the languages spoken in the country, including First Nations. Obviously, that's not realistic. Consequently, a healthy government will have people of a variety of cultures and languages so as to be able to speak with everyone.

Owen Gray said...

It's about communication, Toby. And communicating in one language isn't good enough.

Anonymous said...

Liberals don't get to decide what's good enough for the Con leadership. Typical misguided liberal arrogance and entitlement. Quebec conservatives are not bigots. They're the ones who'll be electing O'Leary to a 40% fake majority in 2019, not liberals.

Liberals will just act hysterical and call O'Leary a 'racist fascist.' Not a tactic that worked with Trump. Not one that will work on O'Leary who only needs the 40% of the electorate who are conservative voters to vote for him to get absolute power. (I.e., the equivalent of scoring on an empty net. Something that was hard for Harper. But won't be for a competent Con leader under FPTP.)

It will be good watching Mr. Free Trade With China flush his coattail legacy down the crapper for ditching his electoral reform promise. (Of course, none of these 'progressive bloggers' were smart enough to take electoral reform seriously. So they earned another Con era. I figure they should be able to Stop O'Leary!! by 2028 or so.)

-BorB Forever!

Owen Gray said...

Time will tell how many Canadians think O'Leary is a serious contender or a joke, B or B. His idea for electoral reform appears to be transforming the Senate into a "profit centre."

This is one progressive blogger who takes electoral reform seriously. Trudeau's problems on that file have helped cause his slide in public support.

Kirby Evans said...

After Trump, it would probably be foolhardy to say with confidence that a man like O'Leary or a woman like Leitch can't get elected. I find it troubling that this uncertainty exists when stats continue to demonstrate that the vast majority of people are more socially liberal than ever and are increasingly believing in government commitments to socially conscious goals. (Incidentally, I believe that Sanders would have beaten Trump by quite a bit). However, if history is to be our guide here, it suggests that by the time Canadians go to the polls, there could be a significant back-lash against the kinds of divisive and elitist policies pursued by Trump.

It seems to me that in modern times, ultra-rich elitists who attempt to portray themselves as populists, have a very short window of opportunity, electorally speaking, before it becomes obvious where their sympathies really lie. People's anger at an unjust system can lead them to all sorts of snake-oil salesmen, but that anger swings like a pendulum when the snake-oil is quickly discovered to be a pig in a poke.

Owen Gray said...

I read that Trump's inauguration will be greeted by protesters, Kirby. And, on the next day, women are taking to the streets of Washington. Perhaps, by the time the Conservatives choose their leader, Trump will stand naked, without any clothes.