I have been in Magog, very close to Sherbrooke, but despite the effort, I have not been able to complete a post on Quebec’s Language Laws. The muscles of my left arm are still very sore, which keeps me away from the computer. Moreover, I have been taking medication. It affects one’s concentration.
I wanted to write a post about Quebec’s language laws. Such an endeavour is a little ambitious. I may, however, express my main thoughts.
Unfortunately, to a very large extent, the language laws that bedevil Canadians to this day are the result of John A. Macdonald‘s refusal to allow the children of French-speaking families to be educated in the French language outside Quebec. Bilingualism in Canada ended at the time of the Confederation. Although we cannot determine to what extent Canada would have been genuinely bilingual, there can be no doubt that had children been educated in French outside Quebec after Confederation, more Canadians would have been bilingual. Immigrants to Canada learned English.
Therefore, it could be argued that Prime Minister A. J. Macdonald created the Quebec “question,” and put French-speaking Canadians on the defensive. Quebec’s first nationalist was Pierre-Stanislas Bédard. Bédard founded the Parti Canadien and, in 1806, he founded a French-language newspaper: Le Canadien.
So Quebec uses laws to maintain the French language. I do not think these laws serve a purpose other than deepening the rift between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians. But the arrival in future Canada of thousands of United Empire Loyalists (UEL) had changed the demographics of Britain’s new colony in North America and had also led to the Constitutional Act of 1791. The Constitutional Act divided the former Province of Quebec into anglophone Upper Canada and the mostly francophone Lower Canada. Should the two Canadas be united, Canadiens could be assimilated.
The two Canadas were united in 1840, but the Premiers of the Province of Canada, Robert Baldwin in Canada West and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine in Canada East fashioned a bilingual Canada. John Ralston Saul has written a fine book on Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine. I agree with John Saul that Canada was born before 1867, the year four provinces were confederated.
As we have seen in earlier posts, it appears that John A. Macdonald sewed the seeds of a long conflict. In 1867, the year four Canadian provinces entered Confederation, the population of the Red River Colony, a territory bought by the Earl of Selkirk, consisted of an equal number of French-speaking and English was a bilingual and multicultural location. Once the Métis moved to Saskatchewan in search of river lots, the Red River Colony ceased to be bilingual.
A Bilingual Canada
- the Red River Colony
- the Province of Canada, the finely articulated bilingual and multicultural government created by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine.
Other than the Red River Colony, and, earlier, the great ministry of Baldwin and LaFontaine, we have no model of a bilingual and multicultural community. Confederation rolled back Canadian history to the Age of Discovery when explorers claimed as theirs the territory they had “discovered” and displaced or destroyed the people living on the newly-discovered territory.
By 1848, the “great ministry” was granted the responsible government Canada had sought since the Constitutional Act of 1791. I agree with John Ralston Saul. Canada was born long before 1867.
John A. Macdonald took his inspiration for shaping Canada from the increasingly large and successful British Empire. He, therefore, subjected Canadians to an Age of Imperialism. Yet, in 1774, under the Quebec Act, the French in Canada governed themselves and did not have to include a religion when pledging allegiance to their new Monarch. As noted above, matters changed with the arrival in the current Canada of United Empire Loyalists. Their world was British. In the case of John A. Macdonald, the world spoke English and consisted of Orangemen.
Although one cannot read into the future, one can suppose that Canada would have grown into a more bilingual and multicultural land had John A. Macdonald created equality between provinces. We are uncovering the body of Amerindian children molested in Residential Schools and we are facing the probable passage of yet another language law: Bill 96, An Act respecting French the official and common language of Quebec.
French-speaking Canadians have a right to protect their language. It has been made into the language of a threatened minority by John A. Macdonald, a Father of Confederation who was a narrow-minded and prejudiced member of the Orange Order. French-speaking Canadians find their origin in one of the world’s finer cultures.
I oppose language laws. They are the business of accountants. Yet, as distasteful as they are, language laws exist because of persons such as Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau who, in early November 2021, addressed the Montreal Chamber of Commerce in English only. The Quiet Revolution occurred in the 1960s and the Official Languages Act (Canada) was passed in 1969. Yet, more than half a century later, in 2021, there are CEOs such as Michael Rousseau who have yet to realize that Canada has two official languages.
How long will it take for the CEO (PDG) of senior corporations to acknowledge the bilingual status of Canada, the country they inhabit? And how long will it take for the truth to be told and understood? French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec were not given the opportunity to be educated in their mother tongue. They may have been destined to be a minority, but they were also forced into that position. John A. Macdonald himself separated Quebec.
I am a bilingual Canadian and my ancestry is diverse: European, British and Amerindian. During the course of my career, I have worked as a University Teacher of French and have served as President of the Canadian Association of University and College Teachers of French, l’APFUCC.
Members of l’APFUCC teach French but they do not, to my knowledge, advocate universal bilingualism in Canada. However, French-speaking Canadians expect respect on the part of English-speaking Canadians and so do English-speaking Canadians on the part of French-speaking Canadians. That is a minimum.
Let me state again that I oppose language laws, but I also bemoan the arrogance Air Canada CEO (PDG) Michael Rousseau displayed in early November when he addressed the Montreal Chamber of Commerce in English. He ignored the Official Languages Act (Canada) of 1969.
Michael Rousseau’s mistake does not justify putting language laws into place, nor do John A. Macdonald’s prejudices, but both cases show why Quebec passes language laws hindering rather than promoting knowledge of French in Canada, which is sad.
Michael Rousseau is a lost cause, and it seems there are too many Michael Rousseaus: arrogant, insensitive, etc.
Would that Confederation had not separated the people of Quebec from other Canadians, but we have to play with the hand we are dealt. Why didn’t monsieur Rousseau invite a French-speaking Canadian to join him when he addressed the Montreal Chamber of Commerce? It would have been courteous. More importantly, why did the executive of Air Canada, the largest airline company in this country, not take into account that Canada is an officially bilingual country and accommodate this reality. In Canada, French is not a foreign language.
Would, moreover, that French-speaking Canadians devoted more time to promoting in Canada a richer brand of French, it goes both ways, despite the odds. The world speaks English.
We cannot undo the past, but the future is for us to determine, which we can do humbly…
Love to everyone 💕
© Micheline Walker
18 November 2021