Notes for an address at the launch of the publication Fifty Years of Official Bilingualism: Challenges, Analyses and Testimonies

Ottawa, Ontario, February 25, 2015
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Mr. Clément. I am very proud to have played a part in writing this work.

Richard Clément and Pierre Foucher have done an excellent job of gathering and reviewing the writings of professors, politicians, lawyers and others, some of whom are with us this evening. These individuals have all, in their own way, enriched the history of Canada’s linguistic duality.

I contributed to the lecture series with keen interest. Everyone who attended them got a sense of the great diversity of language issues in Canada and of the differences that exist between French-speaking communities. There is no standard approach when it comes to Canada’s language challenges: one size does not fit all. This is one of the points that emerge when you read the collection.

It is no secret that I have long been fascinated by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. While doing research for something I was writing, I read with great interest and great frequency both the diary that André Laurendeau kept during the work of the Commission, and the journal of his colleague, F.R. Scott. Their writings have shaped my thinking over the years, and I have often turned to their work to find a balance between the needs of a minority community and the principles of equality.

All of the authors were very generous in sharing their viewpoints and research on the status of Canada’s linguistic duality 50 years after the Commission. They provide a historical and, at times, personal perspective on how far we have come and how far we still have to go to achieve the Commission’s fundamental objective of ensuring equal status for our two official languages. I would like to thank them for their contribution and to briefly introduce them to you.

At the lecture at the University of Ottawa, we had the pleasure of hearing from the very first commissioner of official languages, Keith Spicer, who had lost none of his spirit or his passion for official languages. Also in the collection are excerpts from a delightful interview I conducted with him on the impact of the Official Languages Act and the role of the Commissioner of Official Languages in Canada.

Ingride Roy, whom we also heard in Ottawa, shared her observations on the impact of the Commission’s Book IV on the cultural contribution of other ethnic groups. She also told us that the problems experienced by ethnic groups remain essentially the same as they were 50 years ago, even though immigration has changed significantly since then.

At McGill University in Montréal, the contrasting viewpoints of Pierre Curzi and Stéphane Dion made for a fascinating conversation. Their contribution to the collection enriches perspectives on official bilingualism and broadens the scope of their respective arguments.

Also in Montréal, Sherry Simon of Concordia University stressed the importance of official bilingualism, stating that it is “ necessary but not sufficient” and that it should be considered as “a strategic recognition of Francophone minorities across the country.”

At the St. Boniface lecture, Roger Turenne, who held the first designated bilingual position in Manitoba’s public service, told us about the specific context in which language debates were held in this province. “In 1963,” recalls Mr. Turenne, “occurring at a pace that suggested that the community would disappear . . . . [T]he Public Schools Act prohibited not only the use of French as a language of instruction but also the te3aching of the French language before Grade 4”. In short, the Francophone community was in a state of crisis. Mr. Turenne explained the Commission’s important role in the outcome of Manitoba’s language conflicts.

Also in Manitoba, Raymond‑M. Hébert talked about the successes of organizations—particularly the Association of Manitoba’s Bilingual Municipalities, the Economic Development Council for Manitoba Bilingual Communities and the St. Boniface Heath Centre—and cautioned against complacency and apathy.

Those who had the privilege of hearing Andy Anstett, a former minister in Howard Pawley’s government, will be able to relive the intense emotions he elicited when they read his speech. In 1983, Mr. Anstett had agreed to sponsor the bill affirming French as an official language in Manitoba, knowing that he would lose his seat over it. His powerful and moving testimony is reflected in his speech on bilingualism and the political reality in Manitoba.

At the Glendon College lecture in Toronto, François Boileau, my Ontario counterpart, summarized the progress made by the Franco-Ontarian community since the Commission, and the challenges that remain. We also had the pleasure of hearing numerous activists from community organizations relate their experiences.

At the University of Moncton, with its solid reputation as a language policy research centre, we were introduced to Matthieu LeBlanc’s research on the current state of the language of work in the federal public service. Éric Forgues and Maurice Beaudin also shared their observations on wage differences between Francophone and Anglophone men in New Brunswick since 1971.

Michelle Landry presented her work on the legacy of the Laurendeau‑Dunton Commission and the principle of cultural equality. Mark Power, Perri Ravon and Albert Nolette, looking at the Commission’s Book V on the federal capital, reminded us that the Government of Ontario has never taken the practical approach recommended by the Commission to create an officially bilingual federal capital.

The Fifty Years of Official Bilingualism collection we are launching today bears witness to the Commission’s impact. The country has progressed as a result of the Commission’s work and of the actions of thousands of people who believe in a certain vision of Canada. We need to recognize this progress and celebrate it as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Ottawa has also progressed. First, the capital is much more bilingual than it was 50 years ago—and maybe even more bilingual than most of its residents realize. When I was growing up, the divide between Ottawa’s English- and French-speaking neighbourhoods was much more pronounced. Today, not only do Francophones live in every part of the city, but Ottawa Anglophones are much more bilingual. According to data that my office will be publishing in the next few weeks, the bilingualism rate in Ottawa neighbourhoods never dips below 23% and is often much higher than that, regardless of the presence of Francophones.

Once again, congratulations to Richard Clément and Pierre Foucher, and to all of the speakers. Have a wonderful evening.

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