[lg policy] Barbara Yaffe: Canada's census statistics raise questions about official language policy
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Fri Nov 2 15:39:16 UTC 2012
Barbara Yaffe: Canada's census statistics raise questions about
official language policy
By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun columnist November 1, 2012
Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe.
New statistics on the number of French speakers in Canada are
triggering a debate about the future of official bilingualism.
In B.C., 70 per cent of residents report English as their mother
tongue while a scant 1.3 per cent cite French, according to census
data released last week.
Meanwhile, 26 per cent of British Columbians report their mother
tongue is neither English nor French.
Nationally, numbers from the 2011 census show a similar trend; more
Canadians — 20.7 per cent — are reporting their mother tongue is
neither of the country’s two official languages.
That’s almost equivalent to the 21 per cent of Canadians who now
identify French as their native language — down from 25.7 per cent in
As the proportion of mother-tongue French speakers declines and
immigration boosts the number of people with a variety of other mother
tongues, the question arises: might support for a national policy of
official bilingualism deteriorate?
Conservative communications consultant and pundit Gerry Nicholls
believes such a prospect is inevitable.
Last week he wrote a column in the online publication iPolitics that
he himself labelled “a shocking thesis.”
“As we progress into the Twenty-First Century,” wrote Nicholls,
“unilingual English-speaking prime ministers, or PMs who speak English
and a language other than French, will become the norm.”
The former VP of the National Citizens Coalition added: “New
priorities and new attitudes are emerging in this country.
“The urban elites of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, who used to rule
the political roost, are no longer setting the national agenda.”
This isn’t an entirely new prediction. American commentator David
Frum, a one-time Torontonian, earlier this year argued Canadian
immigration is bound to prompt a decline in the political influence of
French-speaking Canada and Quebec.
Certainly, there is no sign yet that politicians are devaluing the
importance of official bilingualism.
It’s still seen as a requirement for national leadership and a growing
number of premiers speak French.
The list includes Alberta’s Alison Redford, Manitoba’s Greg Selinger,
New Brunswick’s David Alward and P.E.I.’S Robert Ghiz. Dalton
McGuinty, from Ontario, and Jean Charest, from Quebec, who recently
resigned, are both bilingual.
In recent history, Canada had several unilingual English PMs: William
Lyon Mackenzie King, George Diefenbaker, and Lester Pearson. Kim
Campbell admitted to speaking French “like a Vancouverite.”
Canada passed an Official Languages Act, mandating a policy of
bilingualism, in 1969.
Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, in a phone interview
from Ottawa, said he believes such a policy will continue to thrive,
for obvious and practical reasons.
Fraser points out four million Canadians — read voters — speak French
but no English. And 19 federal seats outside Quebec have at least a
10-per-cent share of French-speaking voters.
An even more compelling justification for official bilingualism rests
with the fact that French and English are default languages for all
those citizens belonging to a vast array of multicultural groups in
And so, any PM able to speak, say, English and Punjabi or English and
Mandarin, would not be able to reach nearly the numbers they could by
speaking English and French.
Fraser recalled the federal NDP leadership race last March, in which
unilingual English candidate, MP Robert Chisholm, withdrew when he
realized he wouldn’t be able to communicate with one-third of the
Then there’s the whining from Quebec that would ensue should official
bilingualism policies be permitted to deteriorate.
The logic of Nicholls’ thesis notwithstanding, Canadians would be
extremely wise not to fix what isn’t broken.
byaffe at vancouversun.com
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Barbara+Yaffe+Canada+census+statistics+raise+questions+about+official+language+policy/7485229/story.html#ixzz2B522S8tS
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