Thursday, November 3, 2011

French lobby ramping up forced bilingualism attacks

The past months have seen a significant increase in lobbyists rallying for forced bilingualism.  Led largely by the federal NDP, they’ve ramped up the rhetoric and increased their attacks on the federal government, demanding that just about everything be fully bilingual.

Bilingualism already comes with an expensive price tag: $1.8 Billion a year.  Yet the NDP’s demands for more and more just do not make sense.  They’re short sighted and simply unreasonable for a Canada in which barely 22 percent of the population speaks French, and a world where English is the international language of business, commerce, trade, and diplomacy.

The first instance of the French lobby needlessly attacking good policy took place back in July, when French crusader Michel Thibodeau sued Air Canada for $525,000 because his flight attendant couldn’t speak French.  Even though Thibodeau, a fluently bilingual federal government employee, was on flights traveling to and from states such as Georgia – where half of one percent of the population speaks French – he demanded that he be served in French.  He even had the nerve to say that such a lack of service was “systematic,” “malicious,” and “oppressive.”   The courts awarded him $12,000; score 1-0 for the French lobby.

Then we saw them complain that Justices Michael Moldaver and Andromache Karakatsanis were unilingual, and thus unfit for appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Coming from Ontario, an officially unilingual province, why wouldn’t they be?

Moldaver, who at 63 has clearly been successful despite being unilingual, committed to doing his best to learn French.  Yet the attacks persisted, with the NDP’s displeasure being well known.

The NDP even introduced a bill that requires Supreme Court judges to be fluently bilingual, and able to perform their duties without the help of a translator.  Score: 2-0.

Most recently they’ve attacked newly-appointed Auditor General Michael Ferguson because he’s not bilingual.  Yet Ferguson, hailing from New Brunswick, comes from a province where 30 percent of the population speaks French as its mother tongue.  It’s also the only officially bilingual province.  By comparison, a lower percentage of Canadians speak French (about 22 percent), yet he seems to have gotten by just fine as New Brunswick’s unilingual AG for five years.

Never mind that Ferguson has repeatedly stated that learning French will be his number one priority.  (Which is a shame.  Being the Auditor General should be his number one priority.)

Never mind outgoing AG Sheila Fraser’s recommendation that he become the new AG.

Just ignore all that logical-sounding stuff and appoint a bilingual person, because that’s what the French lobby, led by the NDP, says we should do.  Score: 3-0.

Why are they insisting on an affirmative action qualification that isn’t needed?

In every case mentioned above, the French lobby has attacked ordinary Canadians serving in federal government roles for not speaking a language only spoken by 22 percent of Canadians to begin with.  It would be like asking why you’re not fluent in Chinese, since that language, too, is spoken by almost 22 percent of Canadians.

Speak French where it makes sense to speak French.  But don’t complain that the rest of us are speaking the international language.

We’re in a technological world, where word processing tools, dictionaries, and language translation tools are in abundance.  It’s simply short-sighted to demand such an unfair affirmative action program, when something much cheaper and more efficient would be ample.

It’s also short-sighted to attack these senior-level officials for not being bilingual when their offices employ hundreds of people.  The AG’s office, for example, employs 650 people.  The Supreme Court has hundreds of interns, transcribers, lawyers, and advisers working there.  Let one of them translate a document from French to English or assist a judge when needed.

It’s no coincidence that the NDP has spent a large amount of its time agitating for Quebec and French language rights.  After all, 58 of the 103 seats they won in the May 2 election are from Quebec.  This was a win largely stemming from the failures of the Bloc Quebecois and Liberal Party, while Jack Layton simultaneously appealed to soft nationalists by promising to renegotiate the province’s language laws and saying that Quebec could separate from Canada with a 50% plus one referendum vote in favour.

But there’s a fine line between remaining principled and desperately attempting to please your constituents.  The French language is a language that can be kept alive if its people want it to be kept alive.  They can speak it at home; they can create businesses which serve customers in French; and they can live their lives all they want while speaking French.  But attacking unilingual English speakers for not speaking French is the wrong approach.

The score is currently 3-0 for the French lobby, and you’ve seen how effective they’ve been at forcing the government to spend money and rallying people to force the government spend more on a policy that doesn’t work.  Who’s going to even the score?