By Abdelkader Bouaziz:The first few weeks I was living in Ottawa, one sentence caught my attention and it summed up quite well the experience of Canada’s linguistic duality. It said: “The French and English smile for the cameras while they stab each other in the back. Two solitudes. An endless headache. Amazing! “
I understood the meaning of this sentence much later, especially when I get close to the two French and English communities, and even more so when I get in touch with organizations and institutions for various services every day. On one hand, Francophones, especially outside Quebec, emphasize on the respect of being served in French when the law requires it for a particular service and Anglophones want to see in Quebec, more signage on which French and English rub shoulders.
Ten years later, nothing has changed. As time goes on, I continue seeing this fight between the two communities, to be served in one of the two official languages, thus supporting the bilingualism that characterizes this beautiful country Canada, despite a whole armada of laws and directives. Even better, wanting to immerse myself in living in a fully bilingual environment, I ventured to live for a few years in the only Canadian province – considered- to be bilingual: New Brunswick.
During my stay in this province, I remembered -among couple of testimonies and facts- the story of this French-speaking immigrant Charlotte Slaiby with the police of Fredericton: being arrested while driving her car, the police were addressing to her in English. When she asked to be served in French the tone of the police raised up (they were unilingual Anglophones). It took the intervention of the passenger who accompanied Slaiby to enforce her linguistic right, then another French-speaking police officer (in civil) was called to the rescue. This passenger was none other than the legal counsel at the Office of the Commissioner advisor at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of the province.
Just recently, the newly elected provincial government, the Conservative Party – whose leader Blaine Higgs speaks only English- proposed to fill bilingual positions with unilingual individuals, promising that they will learn French later. In addition to that (as reported by Radio-Canada) a new party, the Alliance des gens, opposes several Francophone services in the province, considering that the Francophone Health Network should be abolished and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages eliminated.
Same warning bell in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is abolishing the office of the French language services commissioner and abandoning the plan to create the French-language university of Ontario (UOF), thus fueling the anger of Francophones. A week later, Francophones challenged the decision, then the Premier backtracks and decided creating the position of French-Language Services Commissioner within the provincial ombudsman’s office, and seeking to turn the office of francophone affairs into a ministry, but leave the UOF until the province is in a “financial position” to proceed with such project.
So many years passed and the situation is not improving, especially for Francophones. But on the other hand, it is not surprising to see a certain lack of ”linguistic duty”: On the City of Fredericton website -the capital of the only bilingual province- it is indicated that, for those interested in: “Immigration and Resettlement in the Fredericton Area can be found at https://connitefredericton.com/en / newcomers / (in English) ”. So the website of the capital of the bilingual province advises Francophone immigrants to surf through a website in English!
On the Ontario side, Francophone websites use jargon in which we talk about a “ Strategic Plan developed by the community“, we also speak about “extensive consultations“, also about “essential tools development of priorities for the entire province”. …. What grandiose words, full of hopes, but often remain on paper and drag on for years to materialize, until a crisis comes to shake things up.
In Quebec, bilingualism is slightly better. According to the latest Statistics Canada census, more workers speak or write in English at work in professional (legal, accounting, etc.) scientific and technical sectors. Their number rose from 158,055 to 194,640 in 10 years. These workers represented nearly two-thirds of all employees in these sectors.
It may be the time to move from ”reactive” to ”pro-active” mode, such as: strengthening the status of ”bilingual province” in New Brunswick, beginning, among other things, by imposing on the Prime Minister to show the model and ensuring a fluency of French, because a leader who says that learning French can be long and difficult, acknowledges his lack of leadership. And for Ontario’s Francophone elected representatives to rethink their way of fighting, perhaps anticipate the future, prepare for it, and even better, actively listen to citizens, as was the case this week, pushing the Ontario premier to backtrack (in part) on his cuts.