COVER

THE RETURN TO TWO SOLITUDES

BILINGUALISM PROVOKES PROTESTS

BRIAN BERGMAN November 6 1989
COVER

THE RETURN TO TWO SOLITUDES

BILINGUALISM PROVOKES PROTESTS

BRIAN BERGMAN November 6 1989

THE RETURN TO TWO SOLITUDES

COVER

BILINGUALISM PROVOKES PROTESTS

The decision provoked a curious form of retaliation from at least one Saskatchewan family. Last December, after the Quebec government passed Bill 178 outlawing the use of English on outdoor signs, James Sinkewicz, a 40-year-old lawn ornament dealer, immediately pulled his son, James, 10, from his Grade 4 French classes at Regina’s St. Catherine Separate School. Then, in June, James’s sister, Neila, 12, picket-

ed the same school for three days after learning that French would become compulsory through Grade 9 this fall. Now, both children leave their respective classrooms during the thrice-weekly French lessons and do homework in the school library. Their father says that the defiance demonstrates the family’s solidarity with the plight of Quebec’s Englishspeaking minority. Explained the elder Sinkewicz: “There is no way [Quebec anglophone] language rights can be denied and it be justified. The rest of us have to speak out on their behalf.”

For many Canadians, it might seem disheartening that 20 years after Parliament voted to make the country officially bilingual, schoolchildren are still being recruited into the coun-

try’s language wars. But the protest of the Sinkewicz family is just one of the more dramatic signs that the official bilingualism policy that Pierre Trudeau advanced as a prescription for national unity is being viewed in a harsh new light in many parts of the country. While more English-Canadians than ever are enrolling their children in French immersion, even some strong supporters of official bilingualism say that the Quebec government—by taking

dramatic measures to ensure that French is the only official language of that province—has made the policy of two official languages harder to sell in the rest of the country. Observed Raymond Hebert, a political scientist at Manitoba’s College du St. Boniface: “Quebec more and more is divorcing itself from what have become fundamental Canadian values over the past 20 years. That has created a backlash right across the country.”

Ante: According to several observers in both English Canada and Quebec, two key events have contributed to the backlash. The first was the Meech Lake accord, which if passed would meet Quebec’s five demands for signing the Constitution, including recognition of that province’s right to preserve and promote its

“distinct society.” The second was Quebec Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s decision to override a Supreme Court of Canada ruling and the charter of rights to impose Bill 178—an action that many critics saw as a foretaste of how Quebec would use the powers it is seeking through the constitutional accord. Said University of Winnipeg political scientist Allen Mills: “There is a large middle group that takes the position that English-Canadians have gone the extra mile with bilingualism, and it is still not enough. All Quebec is doing is upping the ante, and there has to be a time where we say no.” Traditionally, some of the strongest support for official bilingualism has come from the francophone minorities outside Quebec. But many of the spokesmen for those groups now insist that Quebec governments have undermined that policy by failing to support the rights of francophones in speeches and court cases. Said Denis Clement, president of La société Franco-Manitobaine, which represents Manitoba’s 57,000 francophones: “Quebec used to be the big brother and defend us, but in the past 10 years, there has been an evolution. Quebec doesn’t want any English-speaking

premiers to meddle in their affairs, and the English-speaking premiers don’t want Quebec to meddle in theirs.”

Boil: The view that Canada is again becoming a country of two solitudes is echoed by anglophone activists within Quebec. For his part, Robert Libman, a Montreal architect and leader of the Equality party in Quebec’s national assembly, said that the anger expressed in English Canada over Bill 178 is understandable—if regrettable. Added Libman, whose party won four seats for its anglophone-rights position in the Sept. 25 provincial election: “It gets the blood boiling and it has reactionary repercussions.” Certainly, the number and popularity of openly antibilingual Englishrights groups outside Quebec has recently increased. One of them is headed by Ronald Leitch, a retired Toronto lawyer and national president of the 30,000-member Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada. He said that his group, which was founded

in 1977, has gained momentum both from Bill 178 and Ontario’s Bill 8, the French Language Services Act, which comes into full force this month and will improve government services to Ontario’s 500,000 francophones (page 30). Declared Leitch: “The federal government should speak to all Canadians in one language, and that language is English.”

A group holding similar views is the Confederation of Regions party, which was founded in 1984 by Elmer Knutson, a former used-car dealer from Alberta. Then, in early September, COR drew 2,300 people to the leadership convention of its provincial association in Fredericton. That followed a poll released in June by Baseline Market Research of Fredericton, which showed that nine per cent

of the respondents in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, felt that COR “best represented” their views—up from only one per cent in a previous poll in February.

According to Baseline president Linda Dyer, COR’s appeal is in large part due to the fear of many anglophones that official bilingualism hurts their job prospects.

Protest: That resentment of bilingualism was dramatically illustrated in late August, when the union representing 1,100 workers at Saint John Regional Hospital took out advertisements in New Brunswick papers. The reason for the campaign: to protest the opening of a new cardiac unit in which all employees will have to be bilingual.

The ads reported the results of 500 questionnaires

returned by the mainly En-

glish members of CUPE Local 813. Asked if bilingualism should be listed as a qualification for job postings, 481 replied “no” and only 19 said “yes.” The ads also featured unsigned comments from 116 respondents. A typical response: “This is an English-speaking hospital and should stay as one. Let them learn English.”

Another new political organization that has campaigned openly against official bilingualism is the Reform Party of Canada. Since its founding convention in November, 1987, the Reform Party says that it has signed up 27,542 members, mostly in the western provinces, and elected one MP, Deborah Grey, in an Alberta byelection. In the November, 1988, federal election, Reform candidates placed second in 10 of the 26 Alberta ridings and picked up 15 per cent of the vote. The party scored its biggest coup yet on Oct. 16, when its candidate, Stanley Waters, 69, swept to victory in Alberta’s Senate nomination election—the first such election held in Canada. While official bilingualism was not a major issue in the most recent campaign, the party’s position was plainly articulated by national leader Preston Manning within hours of Waters’s victory. “French should be the official language of Quebec and English the official language of Canada,” Manning told Maclean’s.

Twist: One part of the country where the debate over official bilingualism has taken a unique twist is the Northwest Territories. In March, 1984, during the dying days of the Trudeau administration, Ottawa announced that the Official Languages Act would apply to the Territories, where about 3,000 of the 53,000 residents are francophones. In response, the N.W.T. government agreed to pass its own legislation, making French an official

language, in return for $16 million over five years from Ottawa for promoting the native languages of the Inuit and the Dene, who together make up about 60 per cent of the population.

The territorial legislation stipulates that by Jan. 1,1991, all existing and new laws must be translated into French or lose effect. With that

deadline looming, native MLAs—who make up a majority of the 24-member territorial assembly—are using the current legislative session to tell cabinet ministers that they should also be delivering government services in Inuktitut and the six Dene languages. “What frustrates me is that French has more status than aboriginal languages, and it shouldn’t,” Inuit MLA Peter Ernerk told Maclean’s. Agreed Dene

MLA and former government leader Nick Sibbeston: “I am kind of jealous of the French because they are more numerous [in Canada] than aboriginal people. French is more significant because of the numbers.” Despite the regional tensions, however, pollsters disagree on where public opinion now stands on official bilingualism. According to a Gallup survey of 1,051 Canadian adults done in early September, more than 90 per cent of respondents in all English-speaking provinces believe that protecting anglophone rights in Quebec is “very important” or “somewhat important”—a view that was shared by 56 per cent of Quebecers. A substantial majority of the respondents—more than twothirds — also said that protecting the rights

of francophones outside

Quebec was important. Lome Bozinoff, vicepresident of Gallup Canada Inc., said the figures show there is still considerable support for both official languages across Canada. “I think this is very important,” Bozinoff said. “It speaks to why we have a country at all.” Schools: That view is echoed by Kathryn Manzer, national president of 18,000-member Canadian Parents for French, who notes that some 250,000 students are enrolled in Frenchimmersion classes across Canada this fall—up nine per cent over the previous school year. Said Manzer: “I don’t feel there is a strong trend away from bilingualism.”

But Michael Adams, president of the Toronto-based Environics Research Group, said that he is getting a very different reading of public opinion. Adams said that in quarterly surveys of 2,000 Canadians taken by Environics over the past 15 years, official bilingualism at the provincial level has never enjoyed majority support outside of Quebec. During that same period, he added, support for bilingualism within Quebec has dropped sharply. Adams concludes that most Canadians appear ready to accept “linguistic dualism,” in which Quebec will be officially French and the rest of Canada officially English. Said Adams: “Essentially, René Lévesque’s view of the country is prevailing over Trudeau’s and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s.” If that assessment is correct, it is little wonder that Trudeau’s cornerstone language legislation continues to be a source of controversy and conflict.

BRIAN BERGMAN

GLEN ALLEN

MAUREEN BROSNAHAN

DALE EISLER

KERRY DIOTTE

MARGO McDIARMID