Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Pattern Is Emerging

When Stephen Harper appointed Angelo Persichilli as his new Director of  Communications, he raised eyebrows. Mr. Persichilli is bilingual in a country with two official languages. But Mr. Persichilli's two languages are English and Italian. All of which is well and good. But some of us have come to think that high public office in Canada requires fluency in both English and French.

Apparently, Stephen Harper does not agree. Last week he nominated two jurists for the Supreme Court of Canada -- one of whom, Michael J. Moldaver, does not speak French. Judge Moldaver, we're told, is an excellent jurist. I assume that is so. But why -- in a court which hears arguments in both languages -- not choose an eminently bilingual justice?

Yesterday, the prime minister proposed that Michael Ferguson become Canada's new auditor general. Mr. Ferguson has served as New Brunswick's chief auditor. He is unilingually English in Canada's only officially bilingual province. One assumes that Mr. Harper believes that what worked in Fredericton will work in Ottawa -- even though the job description requires fluency in English and French.

Harper and his party -- particularly the party which launched his political career -- has a record on official bilingualism. Perhaps they assume that Canadians have forgotten the federal election of 1997. In that year, the British newspaper, The Independent, carried a story which began with the following two paragraphs:

Vancouver - On his small square patch of Canada, surrounded by a nine-foot fence of English laurel, Reform Man is railing against the Frenchmen who run the bloody government, and dropping remarks about Chinese drivers.

"I admire a lot of those other cultures, but in their own country," said Sid Blanchett, a diesel engine mechanic. Mr Blanchett lives in north Vancouver, a hotly contested riding in the 2 June election. There are two signs outside his fence: one for the Reform Party, and another that says "No More Prime Ministers from Quebec". He's proud to be a racist and a redneck, he said, if that means defending his own culture, religion, and traditions.

The "No More Prime Ministers from Quebec" signs also bloomed like dandelions in my Ontario riding. Mr. Harper's recent appointments, his destruction of the gun registry, and his omnibus crime bill are all reminders that, despite the repackaging and the pictures with kittens, Harper's base is -- and always has been -- solidly redneck. If further proof is required, consider Rob Ford's recent abuse of Toronto Police Dispatchers.

These appointments are deliberate. A clear pattern is emerging. Ignorance is in the driver's seat.


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

It is disheartening to see the federal Harper government soft peddling bilingualism. They seem to view the speaking of French as merely a skill, which is the law in Ontario. Federally, for top bueaucrats, bilingualism, is more than a skill in two languages. It is an appreciation of the two cultures. This is why bilingualism is a requirement federally. To promise to take French lessons, while serving, is not adequate to give one a pass on the requirement to be bilingual. Those of us who took French classes for years and never acquired a real standard of bilingualism know how unsuccessful lessons would be, particuarly for an older person.

Many of my generation bought into the bilingual multicultural vision of Canada. I personally failed in achieving this after 8 years of formal study in French but I do have three completely bilingual grandchildren and four nephews and nieces who have achieved the standard having taken their education in French while speaking English at home. They are capable of participating completely in the two founding cultures. This is the future of Canada and should be the standard at the top of the federal government.

Owen Gray said...

My wife and I grew up in a Montreal which was divided, in Hugh Maclennan's phrase, into "Two Solitudes."

Sadly, both of us only really learned French -- not the Parisian French they taught us in school -- when we left Montreal. My wife went to work in Cameroon; and I went to the Eastern Townships, near Sherbrooke.

Growing up on the Western part of the island, we never spoke French; and we were completely ignorant of our neighbours, who were so close but so far away.

The Conservatives really do want to turn back the clock. But a return to the linguistic segregation of my youth would be sheer stupidity.