[lg policy] Canada: Editorial: The mayor of Huntingdon and the language law

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 9 17:47:29 UTC 2012

Editorial: The mayor of Huntingdon and the language law

March 9, 2012

Huntingdon Mayor Stéphane Gendron is seeking to affirm the town’s
right to serve the sizable minority of its anglophone residents in
their own language. The town’s persistently controversial and famously
flamboyant mayor has invited prosecution by the language-enforcement
authorities, along with the wrath of the provincial political
establishment, with his insistence on sending official town
communications to residents in bilingual form, even though the anglo
minority is insufficient in number to qualify for fully bilingual
service under the language law.

Told to cut it out by the Office de la langue française, Gendron has
defiantly told the language watchdog to, in short, stuff it. At more
considerable length he has railed against the language-law strictures
to which the authorities want to hold the town with a vehemence
unheard since the heyday of Howard Galganov and William “Pit Bill”

He damned the language policy as “racist” and “imbecilic,” and sneered
at French-language hawks as “insecure and culturally deprived.” He
called the Charest government, which came down against him,
hypocritical for offering bilingual communications of its own while
banning his town’s right to do the same.

Gendron has a point in maintaining that it is not only an eminently
reasonable accommodation to do what the town is doing, but
fundamentally in keeping with the town’s history, character and
linguistic reality.

Huntingdon, population by last official count 2,457, is southwest of
Montreal, closer to the U.S. border than to the outer reaches of the
metropolis. It used to be an English-majority town, but like so many
such communities in the provincial hinterland it has been drained by
anglo out-migration in recent decades. The last census shows residents
whose first language is English down to 44 per cent – six per cent
short of the language-law threshold for allowing bilingual
communication from town hall.

By all accounts Huntingdon is a haven of peaceful and contented
English-French coexistence.

On-the-street surveys by media outlets suggest that there is strong
support for the mayor’s stand from residents, both French and English.
(Gendron says he suspects the complaint about the town’s practice – it
was a single complaint that spurred the OLF to horse – was lodged by a
“language Taliban” from Montreal taking advantage of an easy target.)

But righteous as his fight might be, he has embarked on a risky
course, both by flouting the law and by using his characteristic
heated language.

Gendron has a history of intemperate outbursts – such as his recent
denunciation of Israel as a quasi-Nazi state that doesn’t deserve to
exist – and a notorious hankering for the spotlight. That has his
critics saying that with his language fight he’s courting publicity
for himself as much as standing on principle. And they also have a
point in maintaining that the law is the law, and for elected
officials to flout it is unseemly in a democratic system such as ours.

As such, Gendron’s fight appears destined to be a losing one. The
government, starting with the premier, has come down four-square on
the side of the OLF, as have all parties in the National Assembly and
the run of francophone punditry.

Rather than leading to a breakthrough for anglo rights, Gendron’s
crusade seems more likely, if he holds his ground, to hit little
Huntingdon with a $40,000 fine. The Parti Québécois has demanded that
the town be taken under trusteeship if the mayor doesn’t back down.

Rather than breaking the law, a more acceptable way to press his point
would be to challenge it in court or to petition for a change in it.

Gendron has proposed that municipalities with an anglophone population
of 10 per cent or more be required to provide bilingual service.
That’s asking a lot. A more reasonable proposal would be to require
municipalities with 50 per cent or more anglo residents to provide
bilingual service, and give other towns the option of doing so.

But the sad reality, as demonstrated by the all-party reaction to
Gendron’s campaign, is that under present circumstances asking for any
change in the language law that would benefit the province’s
English-speaking minority is asking too much.

In a Quebec language debate, reason is inevitably trumped by ideology
and paranoia over the imminent disappearance of French, unrealistic as
that prospect might be.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Editorial+mayor+Huntingdon+language/6272569/story.html#ixzz1odvCUXhG

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