John E. Trent
Introduction: To understand Canada it is necessary to understand things are not always what they seem – for better and worse. Canada has been called the “Peaceable Kingdom”. It is, but underneath there is a deeper reality. Canadian society is a seething cauldron of contending forces, now heated up by influences of globalization, which continually threaten to spill over into open conflict. This reality has led to another: the necessity of learning the art and science of managing the balancing act that is Canadian governance. This balancing act requires teaching our citizens a certain degree of compromise and of tolerance for diversity so that we can keep the contending forces below the boiling point. One of the elements of this difficult and fragile balance is the practice and policy of bilingualism which, like the other pieces of the puzzle is always a work in progress.
The federal government of Canada recognizes two official languages in its laws, constitution and policies. Although it is only a federal and New Brunswick policy, considerable strides have also been made in other provinces. In 1951 only 12 % of Canadians said they were bilingual. By 2001, 18% of Canadians said they were bilingual for a total of 5 million people. Of these bilingual Canadians, 44% were Francophone and 9% Anglophone. As of the 2001 census, there were 1.3 million English mother tongue Canadians outside Quebec who claimed to be bilingual. In Quebec, the number of bilinguals had increased from I million in 1951 to 3 million in 2001 (41%), of whom 67% of Anglophones profess to be bilingual and 37% of Francophones. New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province saw its number of bilinguals go from 100,000 (19%) in 1951 to 250,000 (34%) in 2001. Here we will use the terms bilingual and bilingual regime as a short hand to refer to the political institutionalization of French and English – without at all assuming that all the population itself does or is intended to speak both languages.
How is bilingualism doing in Canada? At present, 72 percent of Canadians are favourable to the French-English bilingualism of federal institutions. This is a level of support without precedent since the adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969. Among the young, the figure is 80 percent.
By way of comparison, only 56 percent of the population was favourable to bilingualism in 2003 according to the continuing polling done for the Commission of Official Languages by Decima Research (latest poll February 2006). A majority of Canadians in all provinces now support official bilingualism ranging from a high of 91 percent in Quebec and 77 percent in the Atlantic region to 58 percent in Alberta. Across Canada, 90 percent of Francophones like bilingualism while support comes from 65 percent of Anglophones. Astonishingly, 70 percent of people questioned across the country said they were also favourable to bilingualism in their provincial institutions but only New Brunswick has official bilingualism. So, on the whole and for now we can say the language question has settled down in Canada and according to an amazing 84 percent of respondents bilingualism has become one of our most enriching assets and even a factor of success for Canadians at home (84%) and in the world (89%).
Looking at several early antecedents of bilingualism in Canada teaches us not only its historical roots but some lessons that still apply. We then turn briefly to some of the key developments over time of linguistic relations between the country’s English and French-speaking populations and the high and low points in building a bilingual political regime. So that we do not imagine that linguistic policies alone do a bilingual country make, we then consider some of the conundrums that continue to challenge bilingualism in Canada and a few proposals for improving its potential. These steps will allow us to conclude with some context and explanation for Canada’s bilingualism by seeing how it fits in with the general Canadian identity in the 21st century.
A Few Historical Antecedents: It is sometimes thought that bilingualism in Canada started with the federal government’s Official Languages Act in 1969. But, of course, such a policy innovation could not have had much success without at least some historical antecedents on which to build. One of the first bilingual initiatives was during the Union Government of 1840.
As Mason Wade says in his monumental history, The French Canadians: 1760-1945, the great achievement of the quarter century of Union Government (1840-1867) was the working out of a partnership between English and French, which guaranteed the rights of both in a bicultural country (p.276). This is all the more surprising because the period could not have started out in a worse manner. Lord Durham’s report on the uprisings of 1837-38 had proposed the cultural assimilation of the French Canadians in a union government to overcome the problem of ”two nations warring within the bosom of one state” and the “hopeless inferiority” of the French in an English North America. Thus, the Union Government established by the British Colonial Office made no allowance for the French language in the legislature where English was the only official language. However, Robert Baldwin, leader of the Upper Canada (Ontario) Reform Party recognized early on that the Union could not be governed without the support of the French Canadian Reform Party led by Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, and more importantly their “reciprocal and lasting confidence”. Language was the first test. Together, Baldwin and Lafontaine would fight both for the adequate representation of the French in the Union and for responsible government – the precursor to full-fledged democracy.
It is not an exaggeration to say they worked together. On the opening day of the session, Baldwin resigned from the executive council because the Governor General refused his request to include Lower Canadians (Quebecers) in the body. When Lafontaine was defeated in his seat in Quebec in the election of 1841 due to the manipulations of the Governor General, Baldwin offered him one of the two seats in which he had been elected in Upper Canada.
“The incident was a proclamation of the alliance between the Reformers of the two provinces, and of that collaboration between French and English which was to create a different Canada than Durham had envisaged. A former lieutenant of Papineau, a man against whom a warrant for high treason had been issued four years before, a Catholic French Canadian, was elected from the stronghold of Protestant English Canada.” (Wade:234).
But, this was only the beginning. In England there was a new government that named a new Governor General, Sir Charles Bagot, with instructions to make “No distinctions of National origin, or Religious creed” and to choose the best advisors “without reference to distinction of local party”. Let us remember that these instructions came from a country that had been in a life and death struggle with Napoleonic Europe only 30 years before. Meanwhile, the Lower Canadian Reformers under Lafontaine had become a clear and well-disciplined majority. Bagot asked the opinion of the current government leaders who expressed the opinion that “the support of the French Canadians must be obtained by giving them a larger share of the administration” so that one could “govern the province more effectually”. Bagot invited Lafontaine to be attorney general but he insisted that his colleague, Baldwin, from Upper Canada be included in the ministry. When Lafontaine rose in the legislature he began to speak in French, another minister asked him to speak in English. He replied,
I am asked to pronounce in another language than my mother tongue the first speech that I have to make in this House. I distrust my ability to speak English. But I must inform the honorable member that even if my knowledge of English were as intimate as my knowledge of French, I would nevertheless make my first speech in the language of my French-Canadian compatriots, if only to protest against the cruel injustice of the Union Act in trying to proscribe the mother tongue of half the population of Canada. I owe it to my compatriots. I owe it to myself”. (Wade: 239)
Enraged by the inclusion of the Reformers in the Ministry, the Tories of Upper Canada worked hard and successfully to defeat Robert Baldwin. At which point, Lafontaine invited the citizens of Rimouski, one of the two seats to which he had been elected in Lower Canada, to elect Baldwin there, which they did unanimously. The tables had termed and the alliance had been cemented. Lafontaine continued to maneuver for the repeal of the Union Act’s provision against the legislative use of French until finally the government decided to outflank him and make its own address to the Queen on this subject. A new Governor General, Earl of Elgin, was named. He and the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Grey, agreed that responsible government would be granted to the colonies.
Following another election in 1847, Elgin was able to call on Baldwin and Lafontaine to form the government. A Francophone, Augustin Morin was unanimously elected Speaker and R-E. Caron named president of the Legislative Council. In 1849, Elgin opened the session by reading the speech from the throne in English and French. The proscription of French had been repealed.
It had taken only ten years for the French Canadians to rally from the death sentence pronounced upon their nationality by Lord Durham’s Report and the Act of Union… The rebels of 1837-38, both English and French, now held office and were supported by the British government, while the former loyalists proclaimed their revolt. The great achievement of the next two decades was to be the working out of a partnership of English and French which guaranteed the rights of both.” (Wade: 276)
The second historical case to which I wish to draw attention is with regard to bilingualism – or its lack – in the public service of Canada’s central government. From the time of Confederation in 1867 to the reform of the Civil Service Act in 1918, Cabinet ministers made public service appointments on a base of patronage. Originally the federal government just used the public servants who worked for the Upper and Lower Canadian governments (today’s Ontario and Quebec. Thus, up to 1918, the federal bureaucracy was reasonably bilingual and representative of the French and English populations.
With the gradual reforms of the Civil Service Act in 1908, 1918 and 1961 the merit principle was introduced and employment was based on professional competence and competitive exams. The problem was that professional competence was based on the English culture and often included topics like economics that were not stressed in the Quebec classical colleges. The examinations and interviews reflected patterns of thought of English-speaking Canada. Francophone bilingual skills were not part of the assessment, no provision was made to provide public services in French and nothing replaced patronage to assure language representation (Jackson and Jackson: 393).
The result was that by 1926, the number of French-speaking employees in the federal government had fallen to 20 percent and by 1945 it was 12 percent, while approximately 25 percent of Canadians were French-speaking (Wilson: 244). In 1965, only 5 percent of the senior executives appointed by the Public Service Commission were French-speaking (Jackson & Jackson: 393). Things were so bad by the 1960’s, that the Francophone commissioner on the highly reputed Glassco Commission on government organization felt obliged to publish a separate statement on the subject of bilingualism and biculturalism which the Commission had ignored in its 1962 report (Mallory: 177). In several key departments there was not a single French-speaking high official.
“It should become common practice for English and French-speaking public servants to express themselves in either official language in the course of their work, knowing that they will be understood…and that Canadians of either official language should be able to communicate in their own language with federal public servants; and that the linguistic and cultural values of both groups should be taken into account in public service recruitment and training…(Public Service Commission Report, 1967: 18).
It took 25 years but by 1992, some 29 percent of all public servants were Francophone, although there was still a weakness at the executive level. By 1995 the Prime Minister, the Governor General, the head of the public service, the Chief Justice and the Chief of Staff of the military forces were all Francophones.
The problem prior to the mid-1960s of this “greatest single fault of the Canadian bureaucracy” (Mallory: 177) was the proverbial ripple effects it had like a stone dropped in a pond. Just as with the language of the legislature, bilingualism in the bureaucracy is not an issue that touches people in their every day lives. But both as a symbol and as a practical matter it had far-reaching consequences. First, if French was not used in the public service then Francophones are not tempted to work there and decisions are increasingly taken through an English Canadian prism, reflecting English culture, needs and interests. Second, if the population is not served in French then there is no buy-in by Francophones to the central government, which is increasingly seen as a “foreign” imposition. This was a major contributing factor to the rise of nationalism and the birth of separatism in Quebec. As early as 1971, Prof. James Mallory was able to surmise,
“An effective political system must adequately represent the many divergent sections of the community. In Canada the most basic of these sectional differences arises from the co-existence of two cultures and two language groups. The political system, in the Cabinet, the courts, the usages of Parliament and in other ways, has developed mechanisms of representation and accommodation. And so it should be with the bureaucracy. (Mallory: 175)
The development of French-English relations and a bilingual regime:
THE HISTORICAL STEPS TOWARD A BILINGUAL REGIME IN CANADA
1867 The Constitution Act (formerly the British North America Act) stipulates French and English will be the languages of Parliament and the Quebec Legislative Assembly
1910 – 1997 Associations are launched for the advocacy of French and English minority groups in every province and territory.
1963-67 The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism
1969 Official Languages Act (updated and extended in 1988)
1969 Position and office of Commissioner of Official language is created to oversee implementation of the Act, investigate complaints, conduct studies and report to Parliament.
1969 Official Languages of New Brunswick Act (1993 constitutional amendment of Canada to enshrine the equality of French and English in New Brunswick).
1970 Official Languages in Education Program launched to give federal financial support for minority language and second language education.
1971 Canada adopts an official policy of multiculturalism.
1977 Law 101 in Quebec reinforces French in the public and private spheres.
1977 Canadian Parents for French founded to promote bilingualism and French immersion education.
1978 Court Challenges Programme of Canada to give financial support to individuals and groups to have their language rights clarified before the courts.
1978 Quebec – Canada agreement to let Quebec manage immigration within its borders.
1978-97 French linguistic school boards create in all provinces.
1980 Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Official Languages created in the Senate and the House of Commons
1981 National Program for the Integration of Both Official Languages in the Administration of Justice.
1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Liberties guarantees language rights.
1985 Committee of Deputy Ministers of Official Languages created.
1988 Supreme Court starts clarifying language rights in a series of landmark decisions.
1990 Defendants obtain a right to a trial in their language across Canada.
1994 Provinces and Territories start to work together on French language services in the Ministerial Conference on Francophone Affairs.
1996 Joint Governance committees formed of the federal institutions and the minority language communities.
2001 Minister Responsible for Official Language named.
2002 Official languages are included as a recruitment criterion in the renewed Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
2003 Action Plan for Official Languages announced with $750 million in new funding for the next five years in education and health and other areas.
2004 Treasury Board announce new imperative staffing for bilingual positions.
(Commissariat aux langues officielles, 35e rapport annuel, 2005: pp. 1-1)
SOME SETBACKS ON THE ROAD TO BILINGUALISM
Despite the auspicious alliance between Baldwin and Lafontaine that gave birth to Canada’s democratic development, it must not be assumed that all was rosy between the English (Protestants) and the French (Catholics) in the country’s early days. Many of the Loyalists who fled the American Revolution in the 1770s to come to Canada had bitter memories of centuries of French-English wars in the Americas under which they had suffered. A large number of the settlers who came from Great Britain in the early 1800s were officers and men from Wellington’s army who came straight from the Napoleonic wars and were given land grants in Upper Canada. They had little love for the French. The Irish who came to Canada in the mid-1800s brought with them their bitter Protestant and Catholic feuds. In Europe the Protestants had been in the minority but in North America many thought it was time to take revenge on the ‘papists’. Finally the Riel Rebellions of the 1880s did nothing to improve French-English relations.
These lingering ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts were behind some of the bitterest disputes in Canadian history over the issue or religious and linguistic education rights. Time and again the Anglo-Protestants used their majority position to threaten closure of Francophone schools unless they abandoned their Catholic character. Canadian history books continue to remind us of:
1871 New Brunswick School Crisis
1885 Northwest Rebellion (Riel)
1890 Manitoba School Crisis
1901 Northwest Territories School Crisis
1912 Ontario School Crisis
The list tells us of the hardships, battles and animosity that barred the road to bilingualism. They make its recent successes an even more impressive testimonial to the slow evolution of tolerance and compromise in the Canadian political culture.
Another list confirms with what slowness the English-speaking majority grudgingly gave French a place in the government of Canada and with what difficulty each battle was won.
1927 French included on postage stamps
1936 French included on bank notes
1959 Simultaneous translation in the House of Commons
1962 Family allowance cheques in French as well as English
(Commissioner of Official Languages 35th Anniversary Report, 2005:p. 6)
Some Conundrums of Bilingualism: Conundrums are riddles or difficult questions. I use the term to refer to situations that present perplexing challenges to those who try to develop and manage Canada’s bilingual regime. I am referring to geographic and demographic realities, socio-economic and technological trends, historical attitudes and aspirations, public opinion, foreign influences, community life and political interests. Let us look at four of these conundrums that effect bilingual trends: moral and ethical issues in a multicultural country and a globalizing world; the distinctness of Quebec; the existence of official language minority communities, and bilingualism in the public service. One could add many other conundrums such as trends to assimilation of Francophones outside Quebec at the same time as French associations and community life are flourishing, but Charles Castonguay focuses on this in his writings.
MORAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES: The moral/ethical conundrum is rooted in the ‘me too’ attitude. Why can’t my group have official language status? Why should French get special treatment in a majoritarily English Canada? Why should the French be better served than any of the large immigrant groups? Are there not more Ukrainians on the Prairies and more Asians than Francophones in British Columbia, and so on. Sometimes neo-Canadians make such claims but often it is a front used by Anglo-Canadians who have never wanted French to have its place in the sun. The only antidote is education about the deal that founded Canada, about governance in Canada necessitating good French-English relations, and about the probability that a loss of bilingualism would lead to a decline in tolerance for multilateralism. The respect for diversity that underlies multilateralism is always in jeopardy if one can judge by the pressures it is under in the United Kingdom following the subway bombings. But then, what does one say to Aboriginals who maintain that they too were one of Canada’s founding peoples and who want respect for their languages. Aren’t Aboriginal rights recognized by the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Around the world, we are told that 2,500 native languages will be lost by 2100 (Globe and Mail, 18-8-05: p.14). Unfortunately, our only viable answers are based on political efficacy rather than morality. Then there are the questions raised about whether it is socially good to keep people ghettoized on the basis of language and whether maintaining different languages and schools and communities is socially or economically healthy. Such issues are reinforced by globalism, which is tearing down all sorts of barriers and placing English on a pedestal as the one universal language of the future.
QUEBEC’S DISTINCTNESS: French Canadians have always been concentrated in Quebec (the reasons for this are another conundrum). More than 80 percent of French-speaking Canadians live in Quebec and more than 80 percent of Quebecers are Francophone. And yet the French founded and explored most of the North American continent and the Confederation deal was not limited to Quebec. This leads to contradictory desires to live comfortably in Quebec and to exploit the French-Canadian birthright to the whole of Canada. In terms of bilingual policy there are conflicting demands for bilingual equality across Canada and for building a French regime in Quebec. Such conflicts led to the rupture between Quebecers and their Canadian brethren during the Estates General of French Canada in 1967. Or did it? At the present time, the Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Benoit Pelletier (formally of the University of Ottawa) is elaborating with Francophones outside Quebec a new Centre on Francophonie in the Americas and a new Quebec policy of francophonie in Canada (le Droit 30-5-05). At the same time because of global and North American competition, a group of linguistic experts has proposed that Quebec’s unilingual Law 101 must be complemented with a bilingual or even plurilingual strategy (Stefanescu 2005). Meanwhile, Canada’s language planners have to deal with ‘purs et durs’ Quebecers who won’t help promote bilingualism and Francophones who want to know why they are getting poor service on Air Canada in Vancouver. But, it was always like this. In the 1890’s, Prime Minister Laurier had to compromise with Premier Greenway on the French school question in Manitoba because Quebec would not give him its support for a hard line policy, fearing Quebec would be the next target for federal intervention.
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE MINORITY COMMUNITIES: In Canada the Official Languages Act names French and English as official languages and states that the federal government must look to the protection and promotion of their communal bases. This means that the government must fund minority community associations because they are dispersed and difficult to mobilize on a continuing basis. It takes an immense issue such as the threatened loss of Montfort Hospital, the one Francophone hospital outside Quebec, to rally minority communities. But, government funding causes problems of dependency and power. Relations between the government and representatives of ‘official language communities’ are in a continual state of tension, not to say turmoil. Associations representing ethnic communities are often tendentious, quarrelsome and dissatisfied with governments and politicians in general whom in their eyes, never do enough for their communities. They are in a constant state of low-level conflict with their provinces and municipalities, which cause political ripples throughout the country. But ministers do not like political surprises from the very communities they are funding. So they try to manage these relationships. The latest development is called “joint governance” in which the government establishes joint national committees with leaders of the minority communities to oversee various policy areas. However, community leaders feel that the velvet glove of management hides the fist of political control that emasculates their role as representative of their language group.
BILINGUALISM IN THE FEDERAL PUBLIC SERVICE: We have already seen that historically bilingualism has been a major issue in the federal public service. Now I want to focus on some of the lingering problems. Although there are many elements to creating a bilingual regime in government administration we may say that they are summarized by the questions of representation and participation. The composition of the public service should reflect fairly well the composition of the society, preferably at all levels. If democracy is to work, all major communities need to be represented in all domains of government. Once there, they should be able to work in their own language and citizens should have access to their government in their own language. After nearly forty year of effort, policies and structures have been put in place in the public service to achieve most of these goals.
Let us look at a few of the hold-over issues in the public service. Conundrums arise when the norms of representation and participation come into conflict with other norms such as merit, efficiency, economy and the old boy system. One issue has to do with senior public servants who have not yet managed to learn French after decades of leeway and all sorts of incentives such as time off for courses and personal coaches who come to their office. They have been ordered to become bilingual but for political or personal reasons or because of their supposedly irreplaceable professional skills their colleagues protect them. Another issue is trying to make the federal public service representative of the provinces in which they operate. For instance, in Quebec there is a considerable deficit in the number of English-speaking public servants in the federal government’s offices. Years of trying to surmount the problem have run into the attitude of the French managers who wonder why they should help the English in Quebec when Francophones have so many problems elsewhere – of course, this attitude is never made public. Or there are the issues of language in the work place. Anglophones complain that after taking French courses they can never get their Francophone colleagues to converse with them in French – because they don’t want to waste their time and efforts on someone with poor French skills. Or what do you do if you are a manager forced to produce with reduced resources and someone wants your unit to operate in two languages?
A Few Proposals for the Future:
There are always steps one can take to improve policies and institutions and I will indeed make a few such proposals. But, bilingualism in Canada is more than a policy; it is a sort of national icon. It has become part of the “Canadian political personality”, even if some analysts claim that Canadian public opinion places it on a lower pedestal than, say, human rights of multiculturalism. The basic problem is that you have to manage bilingualism and invest in it. It is not just a set of principles or public attitudes. During the past 30 years, bilingualism has been presented as a sort of national duty, an obligation. Rarely is it portrayed as a pleasure, a positive benefit in and of itself, as a cultural achievement, an opening to others, a political guarantee, a stepping-stone to multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Most of our proposals will fall in this latter category.
- Although there is a Minister Responsible for official languages in the federal government, there should be an independent department to give this issue the leadership and the clout it requires. As the 35th Anniversary Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages says, “Implementing rights requires political leadership, organizational capacity and resources” (p. 13). If Stéphane Dion had not been given the specific mandate in 2001, there never would have been the $750 million “Action Plan for Official Languages” in 2003 – after a decade of neglect and of programme and budget cuts.
- Education: Canadians – and especially new immigrants – need continuing education about the fundamental agreements between French and English that underlie the Canadian constitution and Charter and give rise to the country’s political culture.
- The only way to keep up pressure for linguistic rights is to have viable pressure groups in the linguistic communities. They need better funding and less hands on government controls.
- It is one thing to fund minority language groups but they are essentially divisive. Governments have never understood the necessity of supporting bridging groups that provide dialogue and mutual support across the language divide. Canada needs its first French-English cooperative association.
- Dialogue also requires exchanges. Canada should do a much better job of supporting massive student and citizen exchanges across Canada.
- To develop leadership, continuing masses of young people need to be inspired with the importance of bi- and multi-lingualism. Although the University of Ottawa (Canada’s one fully bilingual, major university) is planning to create a new research centre on bilingualism, it is falling down in its role of inspiring its students – in their residences, activities and studies – to see multi-lingualism as a positive benefit not just an added weight and to strive for excellence in their linguistic endeavours. For the same reasons, Canadian Parents for French should be given all the support it needs.
- The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Société Radio Canada are a model of division. They should become a model of dialogue.
- Why don’t our French and English radio stations make the presentation of each other’s music and music groups a cool and habitual practice?
- The public service needs vocal and visible leadership from the top.
The suggestion of the former Commissioner of Official Languages that the “image” of French should be improved (Le Droit, 20-6-05: p. 12)-(hidden on a back page) should be embraced and extended to bilingualism. Presently, only one Ontario student in ten continues their studies in core French through to the 12th grade. The image of bilingualism needs to be changed from a patriotic duty to a springboard toward globalism.
In a recent study (Sorry, I Don’t Speak French) that has received considerable praise, the senior journalist and current Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, points out that language is still Canada’s number one political issue and it is never a question of black or white. Supreme Court decisions have recognized Quebec’s distinctiveness and knocked down discriminatory regulations. Ontario’s policy by “stealth” still refuses official bilingualism but has greatly extended education, legal and health services. Ottawa’s Montfort hospital, the only French/bilingual health complex outside Quebec, not only has been saved but has become a flagship institution. Even Ontario’s health card and drivers’ license have been quietly bilingualized. Still, Fraser maintains Canadians must wake up to the need to improve bilingualism and French – English relations. He stresses that since the near loss of the 1995 Referendum, “No effort was made to increase contact between the rest of Canada and Quebec.” (2006: 291). He proposes:
- Twinning of French and English municipalities.
- Attracting Francophone tourists to the rest of Canada using technological means to offer language information.
- Directing immersion students to summer jobs welcoming Francophone tourists.
- Strengthening school and university exchanges.
- Universities must immeasurably increase their offerings in learning French as a second language especially in public administration, journalism and political science, the fields that are supposed to graduate professionals who can understand in either language to make to the government and communications systems function.
- The media should exchange services and programmes and offer bilingual services.
- Showing Quebec films across Canada.
More than anything, bilingualism needs optimistic and determined leadership, especially from Anglophones. There are fewer bilingual people in Canada than in Great Britain – which has fewer second language skills than any other country in Europe. “Because the two societies are largely unilingual, the national leadership and the national institutions of the country should be able to function in both languages.” (p. 297)
So, what can we learn from these historical vignettes and our overview of the development of bilingualism in Canada? First of all, did Baldwin and Lafontaine create an alliance out of the goodness of their hearts? Well yes, in part they did. As Wade informs us, “A sidelight of the thoroughness of their unity is supplied by a letter of 1844 in which Baldwin consulted Lafontaine about a Quebec school for his son Willcocks: ‘I must not expose him to the miserable embarrassment that I labour under myself for want of French.’ Baldwin’s daughters were already being educated by the Ursulines of Quebec.” (Wade: 242) It is hard to imagine a bilingual system functioning unless at least the élites have some degree of sympathy and opening to each other’s language and culture.
Second, such rapprochement is linked to real political facts. “The French under Lafontaine had formed a large block that was the real balance weight in politics. Bagot saw that to carry on government he must have French support.” (Careless: 201) There is ample evidence in the letters, speeches and reports of the day to show that all the political actors became aware that Canada could not be governed without the positive support of the French Canadians (60 percent of the population) and that this support would not be forthcoming with the proscription of French as a language of law and politics. Quebec and Francophones were then and always have been insurmountable facts on the Canadian political landscape to which institutions and norms must accommodate. To understand why we just have to look at two startling sets of figures. In Quebec more than 80 percent of the population is Francophone and nearly 80 percent of Francophones in Canada live in Quebec. Secondly, between them, Quebec and Ontario continue to account for more than 60 percent of the Canadian population. These figure speak volumes about political forces within Canada.
Third, it is equally true that the English-speaking majority often forgets the reality of the “French fact” in Canada. This is what happened in the federal public service. It was not exactly a plot or a conspiracy. After all, the merit principle was making its way in many democracies “in the interest of creating a qualified and efficient public service … which helps safeguard the neutrality of the bureaucracy (Jackson and Jackson: 389). During that period, Canadians had to worry about two world wars and the great depression to say nothing of industrialization and urbanization. And the French Canadians were not there in Ottawa in sufficient numbers to remind Anglophones of their culture and needs (‘les absents ont toujours tort’). This teaches us that even the most significant political realities can sometimes be ignored if they are not enshrined in government principles, institutions and policies – such as the Official Languages Act of 1969.
Fourth, a very subtle point made by the historian Kenneth McNaught, “The Baldwin-Lafonatine alliance established the real basis of the Canadian experiment in bi-cultural cooperation… based upon a clear understanding of goals, strategy and tactics. It established the point that Bagot reported to his superiors and which remained central to effective government thereafter: Canada could not be governed without the French. But even more important, it showed that Canada could be governed with the French.” (Mcnaught: 99) Lafontaine and his colleagues struggled mightily to demonstrate the “ability, the tact, the firmness and the patience” of the French Canadian representatives (Wade: 262). As Lafontaine said, “I have as a Canadian only one duty to fulfil, that of maintaining the honorable character which has distinguished our fellow countrymen and to which our most bitter enemies are obliged to render homage.” (Wade: 240) Lafontaine always had to demonstrate that he was a loyal subject at the same time as he protected himself against being out-flanked by the radical, nationalist Rouges of L-J Papineau. Nothing has changed in Canadian politics to this day.
Fifth, as early as 1939, Lafontaine had been in contact with Baldwin and his colleague, Francis Hincks. They wanted to join men of their own political convictions rather than accept an ethnic alliance. Hincks wrote Lafontaine saying, “We desire your friendship, esteem and co-operation” (Wade 229). Lafontaine eventually responded, “Our cause is common. It is in the interest of the Reformers of the two provinces to meet on the legislative ground in a spirit of peace, union, friendship and fraternity. Unity of action is more necessary than ever…” (Wade: 231). McNaught was to call it “a system of tolerance within a legislative union” (p. 99). In other words, these early political leaders understood two of the fundamental realities of Canada at the time and in the future. Canada is a country of minorities. No group has ever been predominant. Thus Canadians have had to learn to compromise in order to create good governance across their minority groupings while at the same time respecting the continued existence of each other’s community. Partly in recognition of these twin realities, the Supreme Court of Canada designated respect for minorities as one of the four fundamental and organizing principles of the Canadian Constitution (Reference re the Secession of Quebec: 217). In Canada, minorities (the English in Quebec, the French outside) are the bane of the political life of the majorities. They are also what “keeps them honest” and nurtures the evolutionary demands for effective bilingualism.
Sixth, a hypothesis worth pursuing is that bilingualism is the root concept that has led to the other basic principles of the Canadian political culture such as pluralism, multiculturalism, and respect for diversity that have led to Canada being called the “first 21st century nation”. Of course, each psychological disposition reinforces the others. It is because Canadians learned to be tolerant toward two languages and cultures that they became more cosmopolitan and relatively open to difference. As Will Kymlica has put it, “Canada is a world leader in three of the most important areas of ethnocultural relations: immigration, indigenous peoples, and the accommodation of minority nationalisms …That we have managed to cope with all these forms of diversity simultaneously while still managing to live together in peace and civility is, by any objective standard, a remarkable achievement” (Kymlicka: 3). Still, cultural policy and particularly bilingualism is still a work of art in progress.
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Prepared for presentation to the International Summer Seminar in Canadian Studies of the International Council on Canadian Studies and University of Ottawa and Carleton University. 2005 – 07
John Trent, 11 Williamson Rd., Chelsea, QC., J9B1Z4 819-827-1025,