Archived - Notes for an address at the Conference on 25 years of the French Language Services Act at the University of Ottawa
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Ottawa, November 17, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
It is always a pleasure to be here at the University of Ottawa.
Twenty-five years ago, the Government of Ontario officially recognized Franco-Ontarians’ contribution to the province’s economy, education and culture by enacting the French Language Services Act. I am pleased to be here with you to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
The French-speaking population has contributed significantly to the cultural heritage and history of Ontario and of Canada as a whole. Today, we are not just celebrating the 25th anniversary of an act that guarantees the use of French in the Ontario legislature and government institutions; we are also celebrating the relentless work of Franco-Ontarians, who showed exemplary dedication to the protection of their language and their communities.
I would like to mention just a few of these many individuals. First, Bernard Grandmaître, also known as the “father”—and even, as he has said himself, the “grandfather”—of the French Language Services Act,Footnote 1 a former Ontario minister of Francophone Affairs, who played a leading role in the adoption of the Act. Then there’s the first French language services commissioner, François Boileau, who, among his many achievements, represented the FCFA before the Ontario Court of Appeal in the Montfort Hospital case. Finally, all the jurists who have defended the rights recognized by the French Language Services Act before the courts, particularly Ron Caza, Pascale Giguère and Marc Cousineau, who were also involved in the Montfort Hospital case.
It is worth mentioning the support of English-speaking Ontarians who laid the groundwork for public support for this : former premiers Bill Davis, David Peterson and Bob Rae, Roy McMurtry and Charles Beer come to mind.
Franco-Ontarians overcame many obstacles to get to the French Language Services Act. Allow me to look back and put this act into context.
For 60 years, from Regulation 17 in 1912 until the passage of the federal Official Languages Act in 1969 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, French was a second-class language in Ontario—a private language, sometimes a community language, but not a public language.
You could say that the fuse was lit in 1912, when Regulation 17 was adopted by the Ontario government. As you know, this regulation sought to limit the use of French and make English the primary language of instruction in elementary schools attended by Franco-Ontarian students. The Association canadienne-française d'éducation de l'Ontario (ACFÉO), whose mandate was to represent the interests of Francophones in Ontario, became the primary voice and the “brain trust” of the battle against Regulation 17. With the newspaper Le Droit, the ACFÉO played a lead role in the fight against Regulation 17. In 1927, after a heated 15-year battle, the ACFÉO succeeded in changing the Ontario government’s mind and had the right to French-language instruction in Ontario primary schools recognized. This was a watershed in the history and pride of French-speaking Ontario. The association, which is now called the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, continues to defend the interests of Franco-Ontarians before the provincial government.
But this victory would not have been possible without allies. In December 1940, during World War II, Quebec premier Adélard Godbout spoke to the Canadian Club in Toronto. In his speech, which was reprinted in Le Devoir and praised by both L’Action nationale and The Globe and Mail, Godbout singled out a group of English-speaking Canadians who, in his words, “have responded to our gesture of brotherhood.”Footnote 2 Unfortunately, the names on his list, including W.H. Moore, Arthur Hawkes, P.F. Morley and Lorne Pierce, are unfamiliar today.
Who are these people? Why would they be singled out then—and why should I mention them now, six decades later? I believe they laid the foundation for a Canadian identity that we convey today—the equality of status of English and French and the promotion of linguistic duality as a Canadian value. These two elements have been crucial to defining Canadian values and have resulted in our country being recognized as one of tolerance and acceptance.
In 1916, during World War I, several of these people established what was called the “Bonne entente,” an attempt to reconcile the growing rift between Ontario and Quebec. In concrete terms, it resulted in a group of Ontario professionals and business people visiting Quebec, and a Quebec delegation visiting Ontario. Unfortunately, the organization fell apart over the first conscription crisis.
More concretely, in 1921, Franco-Ontarian senator Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt and a group of influential Anglophones, in the wake of the “Bonne entente,” created the Unity League of Ontario, whose principal goal was to repeal Regulation 17. In 1927, as a result of their continual efforts, and those of the Francophone community, the Ontario government announced that it would no longer apply Regulation 17.
Despite this victory, for nearly 75 years, from 1912 to 1986, French did not have an official status in Ontario.
I was born in Ottawa, and I remember very clearly the nature of relationships between Anglophones and Francophones during my youth. French was the language of merchants in Eastview (now Vanier), but it was never the language of business, except with known Francophone clients. Clients who spoke French with an accent were answered in English. French was reserved for members of the community and the parish.
At the time, the relationship between the language communities was tinged with ignorance, condescension, mistrust, fear and hostility. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin once told me about his experience with linguistic tensions. In 1946, his father joined the federal Cabinet and the family moved to Ottawa. Mr. Martin’s parents sent him to a French school, but he did not speak a word of French. He told me that he had to literally fight his way through his first years of elementary school. First he was attacked by students at his own French-language school, who did not consider him one of them; then he was attacked by students from an Irish Catholic school on his route home, who thought he was Francophone; and, since he also had to go by an English-language public school three blocks down, he had to defend himself a third time.
There aren’t any “good old days” when it comes to the relationship between language communities. You had to play hardball in those days! However, we have made a lot of progress since then, and I think that this conference will show just how much the situation has evolved.
During the 1960s and 1970s, partly due to the rise of Quebec nationalism, the socio-political context changed. Remember that, during the constitutional talks in Victoria in 1971, Ontario was prepared to accept the status of a bilingual province. However, the rejection of the Victoria Charter, the adoption of bills 22 and 101, the 1980 referendum and the ensuing constitutional talks led Ontario to take a different approach from what it accepted in 1971. The French Language Services Act was enacted on the eve of the adoption of the Meech Lake Accord discussions.
The situation has evolved in the past 25 years, partly due to the impact of the French Language Services Act. French is no longer spoken only behind closed doors, and the French language and Franco-Ontarian culture are certainly more visible and audible. The Franco-Ontarian community now has an institutional network that supports its vitality.
For example, the French-language TVO station, which was launched in 1987 and became TFO in 1995, is the only Canadian French-language broadcaster outside Quebec. Since 2006, TFO has had an independent status and a governance structure that allows it to participate more actively in the Franco-Ontarian economy and support the French-language education system.
French-language school boards have been consolidated. La Cité collégiale, Ontario’s first French-language college, meets real needs for training in French and has welcomed over 100,000 students since September 1990. Collège Boréal opened in September 1995 and now has seven campuses across the province. The Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario, created in 1989 by Gisèle Lalonde, Mayor of Vanier, continues to provide French-speaking municipal representatives and officials with a public forum and relevant services in French, and now has some 40 municipalities as members.
The Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne, which defends the rights of its members as Franco-Ontarian youth and students, plays an important role in training future Franco-Ontarian community leaders. Several of its former students now work on all sorts of Franco-Ontarian initiatives, such TFO, the Festival franco-ontarien, La Nuit sur l'étang and the education system. There are Franco-Ontarian cultural institutions for theatre, song and poetry that are known across the country, including the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, and the Théâtre de la Vieille 17.
And how could we not mention the expansion of French-language health services after the rallying that led to the Montfort Hospital victory? Today, a large number of French-speaking Ontarians can receive health services in French, thanks to the actions of their community.
As you can see, there are many examples of success in the Franco-Ontarian community!
However, there are still challenges to overcome in the field of education. As my study, Two Languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-language learning in Canada’s universities, showed, we have to increase the number of second-language learning options in universities if Canada is to offer a real continuum of opportunities to students who want to learn the other official language. It is important to promote existing training programs that enable Franco-Ontarian students, as well as Francophone and Francophile students from the rest of Canada, to pursue their studies in both official languages, and to give French a choice place in their learning.
We need to encourage Franco-Ontarian students to pursue higher education in French, and ensure that the language skills of all Canadian students are recognized in the labour market. The University of Ottawa is North America’s largest French-language postsecondary educational institution outside of Quebec. To protect the University’s French-language services, it is symbolically important to expand and develop Ontario’s Francophone culture by designating the University of Ottawa as an institution subject to the French Language Services Act.
The Franco-Ontarian community is dynamic and multicultural. We must continue to work to promote linguistic duality and the equal status of both official languages and, above all, to encourage Franco-Ontarians to use their language in their communications with their government.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes easier for a Franco-Ontarian to say “It’s OK, I can speak English,” than to insist on being served in French. However, if we do not assert our rights, the government may question the need to maintain these services, especially in the current economic situation. These institutions also need to benefit from legal protection by being designated under the French Language Services Act.
The Franco-Ontarian community has been on a journey full of battles, obstacles and difficulties, but this journey continues to bear fruit. Thanks to the hard work of the men and women who often dedicated their lives to this cause, it is now easier than ever to live in French in Ontario. Today’s celebration is also theirs, and yours.
- Footnote 1
www.lexpress.to/archives/353/ [in French only]
- Footnote 2
“Quebec and Pan-Canadian Unity,” An address by the Honourable Joseph Adélard Godbout, The Empire Club of Canada Addresses, 1940, pp 225-242. On-line version consulted November 22, 2011.