[lg policy] Canada: Movement pushes for official bilingualism policy in Ottawa

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 14 19:50:30 UTC 2014

 Movement pushes for official bilingualism policy in Ottawa
  Marie-Danielle Smith More from Marie-Danielle Smith
 Published on: August 13, 2014Last Updated: August 13, 2014 10:01 PM EDT
 [image: Jacques de Courville Nicol, leader of the National Movement for an
Officially Bilingual Capital of Canada, says more than 40 federal,
provincial and regional associations support official bilingualism in
Ottawa, as do the federal Liberals and NDP.]

Jacques de Courville Nicol, leader of the National Movement for an
Officially Bilingual Capital of Canada, says more than 40 federal,
provincial and regional associations support official bilingualism in
Ottawa, as do the federal Liberals and NDP.


An Ottawa group is renewing a nearly 45-year-old plea to make Ottawa an
officially bilingual city ahead of the 150th anniversary of confederation
in 2017.

The National Movement for an Officially Bilingual Capital of Canada is
finding little support with Mayor Jim Watson, however, despite municipal
and provincial politicians’ throwing their support behind the idea.

Jacques de Courville Nicol, leader of the movement, says more than 40
federal, provincial and regional associations support official bilingualism
in Ottawa, as do the federal Liberals and NDP.

The provincial minister for francophone affairs and MPP for Ottawa-Vanier,
Madeleine Meilleur, also came out in support of the idea Monday. She told
Le Droit that she would “strongly support” a bilingualism policy, which she
said would protect the rights of francophone residents.

The concept was first brought to the fore by a report of the Royal
Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1970, which recommended
that Ottawa give both French and English full equality, with all services
and facilities reflecting both languages. This would also include an
“invitation to the private sector” to do the same, the report states.

De Courville Nicol said that despite improvements in Ottawa’s French
services over the past decade, the city’s lack of official bilingualism is
unfair for francophone residents and damages its international image.

“We don’t believe that this is a local issue. We believe this is a national
issue,” he said. “It is the capital of Canada and as such, it has to
reflect the existence of English and French Canadians.”

The Citizen approached the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage
and Official Languages, Shelly Glover, on the issue. A spokesman for the
minister, Mike Storeshaw, said that “it falls entirely within the
jurisdiction of individual municipalities to decide whether to become
officially bilingual.

“It would not be appropriate for the federal government to intervene in
those decisions,” he said.

 Poll: Should Ottawa become an officially bilingual city?
Mais oui/of courseIt doesn't make senseEventually, but it won't happen by
2017It's insulting it isn't already
VoteView ResultsPolldaddy.com

Moncton, N.B., which was about one-third francophone in 2011 according to
Statistics Canada, became the first officially bilingual city in Canada in
August 2013, and Dieppe, N.B., implemented a bilingual signage by-law in

But Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is skeptical about taking such measures in the
majority-anglophone capital.

“I don’t support designating Ottawa as officially bilingual, because we
already have a very good language policy in Ottawa. We’ve had it for over a
decade, and it works well,” said Watson. “There’s some confusion as to what
this group is asking for.”

If the group is asking for all city staff positions to be bilingual, “I
fundamentally disagree with that,” he said. “We don’t need to have every
plow operator and planner being able to speak fluently in both languages.”

Mayor Watson said that since the city was amalgamated in 2001, there have
been fewer than 50 complaints per year, on average, relating to language

>>From time to time there are mistakes, on signage, for example, but these
are fixed promptly. “We’re not perfect, but the level of service that we
offer in both languages is very good,” he said. “We’re the only city that’s
required to have an official language policy. We have everything from a
francophone caucus of council to a French-language advisory committee.”

De Courville Nicol said it would be unrealistic to ask all city employees
to be bilingual, but French-language services could be increased and French
could be a more accepted language of work in city offices and
communications. The city could also encourage local businesses to deal in
both official languages, he said.

“It’s not a question of grabbing the Anglophones by the throat and saying,
‘You’re not speaking French. You’re not going to be in business long,’ ” he
said, “but being more forthright in asking them to respect Canada’s two
official languages.”

For Coun. Mathieu Fleury of the Rideau-Vanier ward, home to many
franco-Ontarians, the idea of official bilingualism is a good one.

“We have a lot of English-speakers who are open to that dual linguistic
reality of our country and our city,” he said. “There seems to be momentum,
and a lot of interest in the French community. But it’s very important to
take it as a community-building tool and not a dividing one.”

He said he hopes to see public discussion about the practical implications
of an official bilingualism policy.

Marc Aubin, who is running in the upcoming municipal elections for the same
ward, said he believes De Courville Nicol’s movement is heroic.

The fact that Ottawa isn’t yet officially bilingual is “sad for Ottawa as a
city and quite embarrassing,” he said. “I think it’s unfair for the mayor
to decide for the francophone community in the city whether the policy
that’s in place is enough.”

Aubin said he would like to see more presentations made at city council in
French, fewer errors made in official translations, and a greater emphasis
placed on francophone heritage in neighbourhoods such as Vanier, Lowertown
and Orléans.

De Courville Nicol’s movement is not the first group to go down this road,
said Michael Behiels, an emeritus professor of Canadian history and
politics at the University of Ottawa.

“I hope they can get organized and get broader support, but I’m not naive
and I’m not overly idealistic, having watched these battles,” he said,
adding that even in Moncton, where a significant Acadian population
supported official bilingualism, creating the policy was a struggle.

Behiels said the fact that Gatineau is unilingual French and unlikely to
become bilingual doesn’t help.

“That’s the kind of asymmetry that a lot of Ottawa English-speakers would
find difficult to swallow,” he said, especially since many people live in
one city but work in the other.

According to Statistics Canada, which views Ottawa and Gatineau as one
major metropolitan census area, nearly 600,000 people in the region report
English as their mother tongue; about 384,000 say it’s French. Almost
16,700 say both.


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