Archived - Speaking Notes for Anglophone Heritage Week, Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence
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Métis-sur-Mer, June 22, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Thank you for inviting me to the 10th anniversary of Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence. I was very pleased to accept Alexander Reford’s invitation to take part in the celebrations. I appreciate the opportunity to meet people who are so involved in enhancing the vitality of Quebec’s English-speaking community.
It is always an energizing and inspiring experience. This will also be my first visit to the Jardins de Métis. People keep telling me how beautiful they are and I’m eager to see them.
With its roots dating back to the 18th century, the resilience of the Gaspé Peninsula’s English-speaking community is indisputable. Whenever I travel to Quebec’s English-speaking communities, or to French-speaking communities elsewhere in the country, I see people coming together to plan their future with deliberation and consensus.
Through your association, the community can set common objectives and create lasting, significant connections not only among yourselves but also with Quebec’s Francophone majority.
Your organization is doing a splendid job promoting the bilingual character of your community and I want to thank you for helping enhance the vitality of Canada’s linguistic duality. Working in partnership with the French-speaking majority, together you can ensure that all Gaspesians continue to thrive in their own culture.
Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure of meeting with your community’s artists and leaders. There is no doubt that your community, through its artistic and economic creativity and through working together, is contributing to the liveliness of this beautiful region and to Quebec’s cultural heritage. It’s a great asset. The vitality of your community is evident from the various 10th anniversary activities you have planned and the many talented people who are participating.
Like the larger English-speaking community of Quebec, your community plays a unique role in the dialogue on the nature and future of Canada.
Which leads me to the theme of today’s gathering, the dream of a bilingual Canada. As you can imagine, Canada’s commissioner of official languages has a great deal to say on this subject!
There is a general goodwill these days toward bilingualism that certainly was not there 40 years ago. That means we don’t have to approach bilingualism as gingerly as we did in the 1970s.
For my generation, official bilingualism was a struggle, a dream. A few decades ago, the availability of government services in the public’s language of choice depended on chance or goodwill; in addition, in various communities across the country, French was threatened. Defenders of official languages, especially members of the Francophone and Acadian communities, fought for their rights. As a result, their dream of studying and living in the language of their choice has, little by little, become a reality.
While we’re on the subject of dreams, I would like to take a few minutes to go back to the origins of Canada’s language regime and debunk a certain myth.
We often hear that Canada’s language policy was a dream of Pierre Trudeau, but that is wrong. The author of the policy was Lester B. Pearson, an Anglophone from Ontario. My version of the story goes back to 1962, before the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. In September of that year, well before a marine science institute was named after him, Maurice Lamontagne wrote a memo to Pearson, the leader of the Liberal Party.
In it, Lamontagne argued that it was up to the Liberal Party to set out—and achieve—three concrete objectives:
- Patriate the Constitution, which “[…] must include a declaration of human rights covering federal and provincial areas.”
- Create a national flag and national anthem for Canada.
- Make all federal institutions bilingual and ensure they are the concrete demonstration of our bilingualism.
Three months after Lamontagne wrote his memo, in December 1962, Pearson, then leader of the opposition, called for the creation of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.
In 1966, when he was Prime Minister, Pearson rose in the House to announce a new policy for the public service:
- It will be normal practice for oral and written communications within the public service to be made in either official language at the option of the persons making them, in the knowledge that they will be understood by those directly concerned;
- Communications with the public will normally be made in either official language having regard to the person being served;
- The linguistic and cultural values of both English-speaking and French‑speaking Canadians will be reflected through civil service recruitment and training; and
- A climate will be created in which public servants from both language groups will work together toward common goals, using their own language and applying their respective cultural values, but each fully appreciating and understanding those of the other.
Initially, the Commission’s recommendations and what has come to be known as “official bilingualism” challenged the image many Canadians had about the way they saw their country.
The reaction to the Official Languages Act was puzzlement in the Maritimes, enthusiasm and hope in Quebec, anger in much of Ontario and, well, not much better west of the Red River.
Clearly, the debate was far from over.
I was struck by how these few points captured the objectives of what would become the Official Languages Act, which was enacted in 1969.
That was 43 years ago.
Two Quebec referendums and a few hundred editorials later, a majority of Canadians in each province support the principles of Canadian linguistic duality, just as they recognize the multicultural nature of the country they built.
National support for the bilingualism policy is around 80% and a majority of Canadians continue to support current immigration levels.
Today, Canadian society is made up of many identities, but English and French remain its two official languages of communication. Our bilingualism and multiculturalism policies work in symbiosis to foster respect and to promote equality of opportunity. These policies are rights-based—but they are also values-based. Our younger generations are demonstrating it, by being both more bilingual and more open to cultural diversity than any other generation before. That is because learning a second language is not a barrier to learning other languages and experiencing other cultures: it is a bridge.
On this, your 10th anniversary, I want to congratulate all members of Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence for the work they are doing to promote the bilingual character of your community.
I would also like to highlight the exemplary leadership of your president, Alexander Reford. Through his efforts in numerous Anglophone and Francophone organizations working in the fields of horticulture, tourism, protection of historic monuments and culture, he has made your community and the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspésie regions better known, and he has also helped spread linguistic duality in Quebec, in Canada and internationally.
Opportunities such as today’s event demonstrate clearly the importance of ongoing dialogue between our two great language communities.
Understanding ourselves, and grasping the complexity that is involved in learning another language and culture, is not an obstacle or an alternative to getting involved in the world. It is an essential and critical step in the process. You continue to be an inspiration for all the other linguistic minority communities in the country, and for that I congratulate you.
Remember what the Supreme Court of Canada said about language in 1990: “Language is more than a mere means of communication, it is part and parcel of the identity and culture of the people speaking it. It is the means by which individuals understand themselves and the world around them.” Identities are complex these days, but language will always be a central element of individual and collective identity.
Some see bilingualism as a slippery slope leading to unilingualism. I beg to disagree. If I thought that bilingualism was damaging to the future of French in Canada, I wouldn’t be here today. On the contrary, I believe that bilingualism is based on the principle of respect for both official languages.
In fact, for many of you, bilingualism is an everyday reality. It is part of your identity. Increasing numbers of people now speak both languages, and linguistic minority communities play an important role in the Canadian federation in several respects. In ensuring that bilingualism is at the heart of the Quebec and Canadian identities, Quebec’s English-speaking communities have a leading role to play.
I encourage you to continue to develop your leadership role and let the whole province know about you.
Happy 10th anniversary!