Canada: Language barriers

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 1 15:24:14 UTC 2008

Language barriers
The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Saturday, May 31, 2008

The City of Ottawa has only to look down the street to Parliament Hill
for a cautionary tale about what happens when bilingual policies
overrule common sense. As the city embarks on its own language
adventure by declaring 27.6 per cent of its jobs bilingual as of July
1, it should heed lessons learned the hard way from the federal
government, namely, that bilingualism should be confined to jobs that
need to be bilingual. By arbitrarily declaring jobs bilingual,
governments cause two unhelpful effects: They limit the pool of
candidates from which to choose and they turn bilingualism into a
political rather than a practical tool, which erodes public support.

That said, the City of Ottawa does happen to be one of the
jurisdictions where bilingualism makes sense in some jobs. A 2006
census found that 37 per cent of Ottawa residents can speak both
official languages and 15 per cent of residents count French as their
mother tongue. Certain services jobs must reflect these demographics,
which is to say that city services ought to be available in English
and French. But it would make no sense to insist, for example, that
engineers who can build better sewer systems or planners who can
design better neighbourhoods need to be Pierre Trudeau-bilingual.

Happily, there is a growing consensus in public policy circles that
common sense and bilingualism policy are not mutually exclusive. City
Clerk Pierre Pagé himself seems to accept that lack of bilingualism
shouldn't be a deal-breaker. He says jobs will go to the most
qualified candidates, who will be offered language training if
necessary. It's not always easy for government workforces to attract
top young talent, so the fewer barriers to recruitment, the better.

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