[lg policy] Canada's not a bilingual country

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 16 14:21:34 UTC 2011

Canada's not a bilingual country 103


First posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 2:00:09 EDT AM

When an Alliance MP recently rose in the House of Commons to attack
the administration of official bilingualism, he did more than just
challenge a government policy -- he committed heresy. After all,
enforced national bilingualism in this country isn't mere policy. It
has attained the status of a religion. It's a dogma which one is
supposed to accept without question.

So it's no wonder the Alliance MP's views triggered outrage among
bilingualism's chief apostles; the liberal media, the Liberal Party
and the Red Tories. I have difficulty seeing what's so "extremist"
about questioning the costs and failure of current language policy.

My own experience with bilingualism goes back to the summer of 1968.
My parents sent me crosstown to a primitive immersion course, probably
more to get me out of their hair than to help construct a new federal
theology. In those days, the promise was bilingualism would lead to a
new country -- more united, more fair, truly bilingual. It didn't

In fact, Canadians aren't much more bilingual today than they were
back then. According to the 1996 census, the proportion of Canadians
who are English-French bilingual is 17%. But, as far back as 1951,
that number was well over 12%. Even this puny growth in official
bilingualism (at enormous long-term federal expense) is doubtless

Many anglophones especially have pursued immersion programs and are
encouraged to consider themselves bilingual. But with no deep
economical, social or cultural reason to master and maintain the
French language, the skill simply atrophies. Why? It's extraordinarily
difficult for someone to become bilingual in a country that is not.

And make no mistake. Canada is not a bilingual country. In fact it is
less bilingual today than it has ever been. Oops, I committed heresy
again. While the proportion of officially bilingual Canadians has
remained relatively static, real bilingualism in Canada is quite
geographically isolated. Most francophones live in French unilingual
regions of Canada -- mainly Quebec -- and most anglophones live in
English unilingual regions outside the province.

Areas with significant numbers of both linguistic groups are almost
all narrowly con-centrated near the New Brunswick-Quebec and Quebec-
Ontario borders, where most genuinely bilingual Canadians also reside.
There's nothing wrong with this. A unilingual anglophone or unilingual
francophone is as much a "real Canadian" as a bilingual one.

The difficulty only comes when the federal Liberals insist Canada
become the bilingual country it is not. But the ugly truth is even the
Liberals are losing faith in their own creed. They are not practising
what they preach. While there have been attempts to promote French
outside of Quebec, the federal government has increasingly surrendered
to Quebec's activist policies of official unilingualism.

The discrimination against English and English institutions by Quebec
language laws is well documented.
The Liberals, of course, believe emphasizing Canada's "Frenchness"
will encourage more loyalty to Canada among Quebecois. But as Quebec
becomes more French and the rest of Canada becomes more English, it
really means the Quebecois identify more with Quebec than with Canada.

So there you have it. As a religion, bilingualism is the god that
failed. It has led to no fairness, produced no unity, and cost
Canadian taxpayers untold millions. I guess that's what happens when
you mix church and state.

- This is an edited version of a column that originally appeared in
the Calgary Sun in 2001


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal,
and to write directly to the original sender of any offensive message.
 A copy of this may be forwarded to this list as well.  (H. Schiffman,

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list