Canada: Fraser to be next Commissioner of official Languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Sep 17 14:11:38 UTC 2006

Toronto Star's Fraser picked for languages post
Sep. 13, 2006. 05:30 PM


The next commissioner of official languages is expected to be the Toronto
Star's Graham Fraser, a member of the paper's Ottawa bureau and a veteran
journalist who has spent nearly 40 years covering the politics and culture
across Canada's bilingual divide.  Fraser was described today as an active
and ardent voice for Canadas language policy by Prime Minister Stephen
Harper in the appointment notice released in Ottawa. The journalist,
author and lecturer has been invited to speak across the country on
official languages issues and has lectured on language policy as an
adjunct professor at the Carleton University School of Journalism. "I am
very excited, and honoured that my name has been put forward,"  Fraser
said. "I am waiting for the decision of Parliament; at this point, I am
just a candidate for the job, not an appointeee," Fraser said today after
the news was announced.

Harper said that Fraser is an excellent candidate for the commissioners
position, adding that he brings to the position a deep understanding of
and sensitivity to Canadas linguistic duality and a profound knowledge of
Canadas language policy and its impact on minority language communities.
The prime minister said Fraser also has the independence of mind of a
journalist. Said Fraser: "In the course of the research I did for my book
(the recently published, "Sorry, I Don't Speak French"), I read annual
reports by all of the (former) commissioners and came to understand a bit
more about the job that each one of them did.

"I have interviewed every one of them, and I have a lot of respect for
them, and for the work they did. When the job was posted, I decided to
apply for it," Fraser said. "The language issue is one that has always
interested me, ever since I went to Quebec to work on an archaeolotical
project in the summer of 1965.  I was in Quebec City when Camille Laurin
introduced the Quebec language law, and wrote about it in detail in a book
I wrote about the Parti Qubcois. "I was in Ottawa when the Mulroney
government introduced amendments to the Official Languages Act in 1988 -
and I was here when the latest amendments to the Act were passed last

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages was created in 1970
under the Official Languages Act to protect and promote linguistic
duality; the commissioner reports directly to Parliament. The job is a
seven-year appointment and the Official Languages Commissioner is paid the
same as a Federal Court judge - currently $231,000 a year. Frasers
proposed appointment will be tabled in the House of Commons shortly after
business there resumes next week. It must be approved by Parliament.
Fraser's most recent book, "Sorry, I Don't Speak French," is an in-depth
look at Canada's bilingualism policies.

Though Fraser was reluctant yesterday to talk about his priorities for the
job - saying he didn't want to pre-empt Parliament's review of his
appointment - his book does give some clues on where he thinks Canada's
language policy needs some repair work. Much of the problem, Fraser
argues, revolves around how Canada has failed to cultivate bilingualism in
the education system. "If you think of language policy as an ecological
system, Canada's approach has some crazy dysfunctionalities," Fraser
writes in the book's conclusion. "It is silly that English Canadians reach
their peak in French-language facility at 19 and then start to lose it
when they enter university ... "It is insane that Canadian universities
continue to treat French as a foreign language, to be taught in literature
departments, rather than as a language of instruction in history,
political science and public administration classes."

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