Archived - Notes for an address at the Canadian Club of Vancouver – Baldwin-Lafontaine Award Presentation
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Vancouver, April 15, 2010
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
I am very pleased to be here in British Columbia. I first visited this province as Commissioner only a few days after being appointed, and I was extremely impressed with the spirit and vitality of British Columbia's Francophone community. I had the same impression when I was here again during the Olympic Games.
It was during my visit in 2006 that I first spoke to members of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) about the use of French at the Games. Afterwards, my office conducted a study on the subject, an awareness campaign and a follow-up to the study. We know very well that there were some flaws during the opening ceremony, but thanks to hard work by all concerned—your associations, the Canadian Foundation for Cross-Cultural Dialogue, the federal government and even the corporate sponsors—what on-site visitors saw was a remarkable success.
Posters, signage, ads, reception and television coverage were most often provided in both languages, and translation and interpretation services were available. Also, thanks to the Place de la francophonie and Maillardville’s Festival du Bois, people were able to celebrate in French. It is unfortunate that those who saw the opening ceremony on television were not able to see the use of both official languages at Games facilities and events that followed.
I am especially proud to receive the Baldwin-LaFontaine award because these two men, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, are, in some ways, the founding fathers of linguistic duality and democracy in Canada.
Sixty years ago, a historian wrote that the events of the 1830s and 1840s were the ones that were most discussed among all of the major milestones in Canadian history, except for the Conquest. But things changed, and since that time, historians have been more interested in social history.
In 1998, Bob Rae and John Ralston Saul became interested in these two men who had formed such a remarkable partnership. In 1999, Parliament celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Rebellion Losses Bill, which recognized the authority of those the people elected. Saul then started the annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture to celebrate the work of these two outstanding individuals.
As Saul explained, LaFontaine and Baldwin were both reformists. Baldwin had adopted a moderate position during the rebellions of 1837–1838, caught as he was between the rebels and the Family Compact, while LaFontaine had supported the insurrections. During the 1840s, the two politicians became not only allies but also close friends.
The years following the two failed rebellions and Lord Durham’s botched plan to assimilate French Canadians in the Union were a crucial period in Canada's creation. According to Saul, “[t]he coalition which Mackenzie-Papineau attempted and Lafontaine-Baldwin achieved is the key to the Canadian sensibility.”Footnote 1
Along the same lines, Rae wrote: “The federal idea in Canada owes precisely nothing to Durham and everything to Baldwin and LaFontaine and their successors.”Footnote 2 In his Address to the Electors of Terrebonne, in 1840, LaFontaine made the following statement in support of social and economic equality:
The only way in which [the authorities] can prevent us from succeeding is by destroying the social equality which is the distinctive characteristic as much of the population of Upper Canada as of Lower Canada. This social equality must necessarily bring our political liberty [...] No privileged caste can exist in Canada beyond and above the mass of its inhabitants.Footnote 3
When Governor Sydenham threw LaFontaine out of the Assembly, Baldwin resigned from one of the two constituencies he represented and asked York voters to elect his friend.
In 1843, to advance the cause of responsible government, LaFontaine insisted that Baldwin be a part of his group of French-speaking members of the Assembly.Footnote 4 Later that year, when Baldwin was defeated by the Conservatives, LaFontaine offered him the seat in Rimouski.
Baldwin was serious about fulfilling his mandate and even asked LaFontaine, in 1844, to help him choose a French-language school for his son: “I must not expose him to the miserable embarrassment that I labour under myself for want of French.”Footnote 5
It is important to remember that in addition to fighting for democracy, LaFontaine also fought for the French language within the Assembly.
In 1842, LaFontaine challenged the rule prohibiting the use of French in the Assembly, and when a member of Parliament asked him to speak English, he retorted:
Did my honourable member forget that I belong to the nationality that is so unfairly treated by the Union Act? I am asked to speak in a language other than my mother tongue this first speech that I have to make in this House. I lack confidence in my ability to speak English. Even if my knowledge of English were as good as my knowledge of French, I should 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.Footnote 6[translation]
This was the beginning of a tradition of dualist political management which marked the successful leadership of John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien—leadership that managed to include both a strong Anglophone and a strong Francophone representation.
We talk a lot about lack of understanding, division and hostility between Canada's language groups. However, an entirely different tradition was started with LaFontaine and Baldwin—a tradition of cooperation, openness and inclusion.
Here in British Columbia, this tradition continues throughout the province, welcoming all cultures and language groups that have chosen to make western Canada their home.
You do things differently here: all of the province's residents work together to see how each person can contribute to the common good. Anglophones and Francophones live side by side in harmony. This understanding is demonstrated through your interest in immersion programs at all levels, the important role of Francophone organizations within the tourism industry and the warm welcome you give to various Francophone groups and organizations.
Through the honour that I am receiving today, I feel connected to your community and I am very happy to be included among the recipients of an award that recognizes the importance of building bridges between the Anglophone and Francophone communities that make up our country, as well as the importance of linguistic duality here in British Columbia, and in Canada as a whole.
- Footnote 1
John Ralston Saul, Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century, Toronto, Viking, 1997, p 66.
- Footnote 2
Bob Rae, The Three Questions; Prosperity and the Public Good, Toronto, Penguin, 1998, pp. 142-143.
- Footnote 3
Quoted in John Ralston Saul, op. cit., p. 133.
- Footnote 4
J. M. S. Careless, The Union of the Canadas: The Growth of Canadian Institutions 1841-1857, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1967, p. 67.
- Footnote 5
Quoted in Graham Fraser, Sorry, I Don’t Speak French, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 2006, p. 17.
- Footnote 6
L’Aurore des Canadas, September 27, 1842, quoted in Jacques Monet, S.J., The Last Cannon Shot: A Study of French-Canadian Nationalism, 1837-1850, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1969, p. 197.