Saturday, October 29, 2011

Are federal Conservatives and New Democrats partners in the erosion of Canadian Bilingualism?

In last year's federal election, Mr. Layton spoke openly during the campaign of applying elements of Bill 101 – the backbone of Quebec’s controversial language charter – to federally regulated industries. More recently, the NDP has re-affirmed its support for modifying federal laws to favour the use of French in Quebec in those industries--mostly in transportation, communications and the federal public sector--in Quebec.
This week, the Conservative government appointed a highly competent accountant from New Brunswick to succeed Sheila Fraser as Canada's next auditor-general--and ignored the fact that he wasn't bilingual.  (While nobody doubts his qualifications, there are many highly qualified accountants in Canada who are bilingual.  In addition, this appointment comes after two unilingual Supreme Court judges were appointed.)
To my knowledge, nobody has linked these two events. One person who would have was the late Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who always warned that pandering to unilingualism in one part of the country would weaken support for bilingualism in the rest of the country, with possibly grave long-term implications for national unity. At his worst, Trudeau was overly dogmatic in opposing any form of special status or recognition of "distinct society".  But surely he was right to warn of a possible slippery slope in the protection of minority language rights.  
Now that we have a Conservative government that can  get an electoral majority without winning Quebec, the conditions are right for a decline in the support for, and declining effectiveness of, official bilingualism in our national institutions.  Relaxing the enforcement of rights for anglophones working in federally-regulated workplaces in Quebec and overlooking the auditor-general's lack of competence in French are both evidence that this slide is already happening.