Archived - Notes for an address at the Symposium “Les médias et la francophonie canadienne : quel passé, quel présent, quel avenir?”
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Ottawa, Ontario, March 28, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I am very pleased to participate in this symposium, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of Le Droit.
I would like to start by saying “Congratulations!” and “Happy anniversary!” Newspapers, and the media in general, are tools for public engagement. They strengthen the ties between members of the community. They also leave a record of the events that have marked our history.
This is why I would like to highlight the excellent work of Denis Gratton, Hugues Théorêt and Philippe Orfali who, to mark the centennial of Le Droit, have given their readers an overview of the history of Francophones in this region.
In a world of social media, we often forget that every means of communication is created to serve a community, whether it is a geographical community or a community of shared interests. The relationship between a means of communication and its community is dynamic: they strengthen each other. This relationship is even more evident in the case of linguistic minority communities. In the words of Monica Heller, “Linguistic minorities are created by nationalisms which exclude them. At the same time, the logic of linguistic nationalism is available to minorities as a way to resist the power of the majority."Footnote 1
Le Droit was born of this resistance to the power of the majority. From Regulation 17 in 1912 to the adoption of the federal Official Languages Act in 1969 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, French was a second-class language in Ontario. It was a private language, sometimes a community language, but not a public language.
For 100 years, Le Droit has played a leading role in defending the social and political rights of Francophones in the public sphere.
In 1927, after a 15-year struggle by the Franco-Ontarian community, the Ontario government eliminated Regulation 17 and recognized the right to education in French in Ontario primary schools. By keeping citizens up to date and facilitating their activism, Le Droit contributed to this historical achievement that made French-speaking Ontario proud.
When Canada declared war on Germany in 1939, Le Droit reported that if Ottawa tried to impose conscription, the Francophone ministers in Mackenzie King's cabinet would resignFootnote 2. Le Droit reported the statement of Liberal MP Maxime Raymond, who opposed Canada's participation. He said “neutrality is the only truly Canadian attitude.”Footnote 3 Raymond was one of the key players in the 1942 conscription crisis and one of the founders of the Bloc populaire canadien.
Two months after the Official Languages Act was adopted in September 1969, Le Droit revisited the events that led to its adoptionFootnote 4. It reported that the government would appoint a “language commissioner”, who would not have any executive power. He would be a sort of “language ombudsman”. Then, the journalist Gérard Alarie wrote in Le Droit that: “The Trudeau government believes that equality in status and in fact of Canada's two major language groups is likely to render obsolete any attempt by Quebec to separate politically from Canadian confederation.Footnote 5[translation]” The October Crisis flared up in Quebec 13 months later.
In 1997, Le Droit played a key role in the mobilization of Franco-Ontarians to save Montfort Hospital. In an article written for the 100th anniversary of Le Droit, Hugues Théorêt said that “Not since Regulation 17 has Le Droit gotten so involved in a social and political struggle.Footnote 6[translation]” By defending their right to health care in their language, Franco-Ontarians earned the respect of many of their fellow citizens.
I know that Pierre Bergeron does not like to talk about “the minority”, but it is nevertheless a useful term. Defending language rights is everyone's business and, on occasion, it must be done in the streets as well as before the courts.
Therefore, based on this idea of resistance to the power of the majority, we can say that Quebec defined itself as a minority society for at least 130 years, between 1837, the year of the rebellion, to 1967, the year when the Estates General encountered French-Canadian nationalism without Quebec. As newspapers and media in general reflect the societies they observe, Quebec French-language newspapers were minority newspapers during this period. Since then, the identity of Quebec society has been characterized by tension between the minority reflex and the majority reflex.
The media, and leaders who have worked in the media, have played a crucial role in defining and defending the community and in the evolution of the community's perceptions of itself.
There is nothing unusual about that. To exist, a community needs a forum for discussion, shared information, methods of communicating and ways of mobilizing its members. This is a key component of what academic researchers call “functional completeness” in English or “complétude” in French. According to Tom Morig, it means “that speakers of the language, if they so choose, can live their life in and through the language without having to resort to other languages, at least within the confines of everyday matters in their community.”Footnote 7 This is where the media play an essential role.
It is no accident that the newspapers of the Canadian Francophonie are closely tied to the crises experienced by the Francophone community, such as the Rebellion of 1837, Regulation 17, the Manitoba Schools Question and conscription in 1914. It is also not a coincidence that many Francophone leaders in Canada have come from the field of journalism, including Étienne Parent, Henri Bourassa, André Laurendeau, René Lévesque, Pierre Laporte, Gérard Pelletier, Jeanne Sauvé and Claude Ryan. Other leaders, for example Lucien Bouchard and Serge Ménard, studied journalism.
For the period before 1967, it is necessary to include leaders from Quebec when referring to the Canadian Francophonie, because French Canada did not have a provincial border. As Lionel Groulx said in 1935, “The dominant fact about French life in America in the past century is undoubtedly the scattering of the French community. It would no longer be possible to define French Canada as a geographic entity within the borders of Quebec.”Footnote 8[translation] These leaders were often journalists who used their newspapers to defend and mobilize their community.
Let's begin with Étienne Parent. According to the late Jean-Charles Falardeau, “Étienne Parent's thought dominated the first half of the French Canadian 19th century. This man incarnated as did no one else the ambitions of a new social type, that of the intellectual and political élite, which at the turn of the 19th century was replacing the gentleman class of landowning seigneurs, and, along with ecclesiastical leaders, resolutely taking hold of the destiny of the French Canadian people.”Footnote 9
The historian Éric Bédard considers Étienne Parent the elder statesman and the intellectual of the 19th century reformers (“We are reformers; we have stopped being revolutionaries,” [translation] he wrote in November 1837Footnote 10) and the most nuanced in his assessment of the importance of doctrines.Footnote 11
Less radical than Papineau, but also disenchanted with the Durham Report (which he translated and published in his newspaper Le Canadien), Étienne Parent called for caution. On May 13, 1839, he wrote, “We ask our fellow countrymen to make virtue a necessity, not to struggle foolishly against the inflexible course of events.”Footnote 12[translation] His position inspired Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, and Parent published the famous “Address to the electors of Terrebonne” in his newspaper Le Canadien on August 31, 1840.
By translating and publishing the Durham Report, taking an editorial position in favour of moderation and publishing La Fontaine's Address—which John Ralston Saul considers one of the founding documents of Canadian democracy—Parent became the spokesperson of a community that perceived itself as wounded and he played a key role in mobilizing it.
Éric Bédard makes reference to Ralph Heintzman's thesis whereby “The French Canadians had a ‘love-hate' relationship with politics that directly resulted from their lower economic status.” Instead, unlike Heintzman, Bédard attributes this “antipathy towards politics to a rigid fear of division, which is probably typical of minority nations that fear for their survival.”Footnote 13[translation]
This perhaps explains why so many political leaders started out their careers as journalists: they were able to connect with and appeal to an entire community.
Henri Bourassa launched Le Devoir in January 1910, during the political crisis surrounding the creation of a navy for war purposes.Footnote 14 He also strongly supported the cause of the Association canadienne-française d'éducation, which, under the leadership of Senator Napoléon Belcourt, had launched a battle against Regulation 17, in addition to defending bilingualism, which was opposed by the Anglophone Irish Canadian clergy.Footnote 15
With Le Devoir, Bourassa succeeded in mobilizing Quebec voters against the Laurier government and helped bring about Laurier's defeat in 1911. His newspaper was one of the only ones, along with L'Action sociale, that was authorized in the colleges, thus ensuring his influence on the younger generation. He defended the French language at the Eucharistic Congress in 1910, when Bishop Bourne proposed that English be the vehicle of the faith. Following his spontaneous reply, the reaction was immediate. In the words of Mason Wade, “Quebec had found a new leader, to whom the Franco-Ontarians now turned for aid in their struggle for a French bishop of Ottawa and for bilingualism in their schools.”Footnote 16
Three years later in 1913, Le Droit was founded by the Oblate Fathers and, under the direction of Charles Charlebois, it became the vehicle of opposition to Regulation 17. Le Droit's motto, “L'avenir est à ceux qui luttent” [the future belongs to those who struggle], left no doubt as to what motivated the founding of the newspaper. Charlebois would be one of the first to defend the French language in Ontario and to condemn those who would dare to oppose it. “Often described as the kingpin of the resistance to Regulation 17, Father Charlebois would remain at the helm of the newspaper throughout the schools crisis and lead the struggle with uncommon tenacity.”Footnote 17[translation]
André Laurendeau wonderfully embodies the tension that existed between the French Canadian and Québécois identities. A journalist, a member of the Bloc populaire party, an editor in chief and a co chair of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, Laurendeau is described as follows on the cover page of his book about the conscription crisis: “His tenacity, flexibility and lucidity make him one of the most trustworthy guides to French Canada.” [translation]
André Laurendeau only participated in the first part of the Commission's work (he died on June 1, 1968), but his influence was undeniable. He had a keen intelligence and was a very good communicator, as attested by his “blue pages” included in the Commission's first report, where he describes the alarming state of relations between Anglophones and Francophones in Canada.
On the one hand, Laurendeau was deeply attached to certain aspects of the Canadian federation and, on the other hand, he continued to support a nationalism based on the need to take measures to preserve Canada's French language heritage. He defined himself as a “French Canadian nationalist,”Footnote 18 but, in the famous blue pages of the Preliminary Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, he emphasized the importance of a “distinct French speaking society in Quebec” and stated that Quebec had “a leading role in promoting the French language and culture in Canada, regardless of the political solution adopted.”Footnote 19[translation]
Although a nationalist, André Laurendeau never became a sovereignist, despite the temptation he sometimes felt. In fact, he was opposed to separatism, which he believed did not offer any solutions to the main problems facing Francophones in Canada, saying Francophones were “were rooted in the North American environment.” But it continued to be a lively debate in his mind. On February 22, 1964, he wrote in his diary: “With some Anglophones, I feel pressure inside myself to embrace separatism: ‘They are too stupid; they will only give in if forced to.' When I come back to Quebec, the separatists drive me back to Canada: they are too naïve, too divorced from political reality—or curiously peripatetic and superficial.”Footnote 20[translation] However, when the Commission's preliminary report was published, he expressed his disappointment, stating that, “It does nothing for Quebec.”Footnote 21
A transformation occurred during the debates of the Estates General of French Canada held in 1967, which marked a breaking point between Quebec and the Francophone communities in the rest of Canada. French Canadian nationalism was now defined as Quebec nationalism; the independence movement acquired a coalition party, the Parti Québécois; and the Québécois began to develop a definition of themselves as a majority people in a Francophone society, rather than as a minority people in a bilingual country. As Marcel Martel said, “No longer were they a minority community in Canada—now they were [sic] French majority in the new national territory of Quebec. This transformation led to the emergence of a Québécois identity. But it also led to the abandonment of francophones outside Quebec.”Footnote 22
And now? The Francophone minority media have not been spared the effects of the crisis affecting media organizations across North America, even though Le Droit has a bigger weekly readership (35,829) than Le Devoir (29,212). It is difficult to name an editor or journalist who plays an important leadership role in the Canadian Francophonie, except perhaps Jean-Marie Nadeau in Acadia.
But I make these comments with great hesitation, because minority community media have not been studied as much as the schools. There are fewer studies of those who consume minority community media than of students in French-language schools in Francophone minority communities. A recent collection of articles on linguistic identity in French OntarioFootnote 23 makes no mention of the media playing a part in identity building.
Paradoxically, some French language media play a welcoming role by hiring French speaking immigrants as journalists. The upside is that these recruits bring new energy and a new way of looking at the community. The downside is a lack of knowledge of history. A French journalist working for a minority community newspaper asked me in an interview once, “Who is René Lévesque?”
In my opinion, this symposium is a good starting point for studying minority community media. Who reads French language newspapers outside Quebec? What role do the media play in maintaining and promoting the growth of these communities? Do minority community media feature and support Francophone artists? Are traditional media successfully adjusting to technological change?
And how do members of official language minority communities perceive the importance of the French language media? Do they read newspapers? Do they listen to the radio? When CBEF Windsor was abolished and its programs transferred to Toronto, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received over 800 complaints, and we are still before the courts to ensure that the CBC fulfils its obligations to the community. We have heard moving testimony about the importance of local radio for the Francophone community in southern Ontario, but are there any in depth sociological studies on this subject? We haven't found any.
To conclude, I would like to express the hope that this conference will encourage researchers to find out more about the relationship between Canada's French-speaking communities and its media.
Thank you very much.
- Footnote 1
Monica Heller, Linguistic Minorities and Modernity: A Sociolinguistic Ethnology, Longman, London and New York, 1999, p. 7.
- Footnote 2
Hugues Théorêt, « 40 – Le Canada entre dans la Seconde Guerre ».
- Footnote 3
- Footnote 4
Denis Gratton, « 88 – Le Canada officiellement bilingue ».
- Footnote 5
- Footnote 6
Hugues Théorêt, « 5 – 10 000 Franco-Ontariens pour sauver Montfort ».
- Footnote 7
Tom Morig, “Functional Completeness in Minority Language Media,” in Minority Language Media: Concepts, Critiques and Case Studies, Mike Cormack and Niamh Hourigan (eds.), Buffalo and Toronto, Multilingual Matters Ltd., Clevedon, 2007, p. 18.
- Footnote 8
Quoted by Michel Bock, Quand la nation débordait les frontières : Les minorités françaises dans la pensée de Lionel Groulx, Éditions Hurtubise HMH Collection Histoire, 2004, p. 11.
- Footnote 9
Jean-Charles Falardeau, “Étienne Parent,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, consulted on January 3, 2013.
- Footnote 10
Quoted by Éric Bédard, Les Réformistes, Une génération canadienne-française au milieu du XIXe siècle, Montréal, Les éditions du Boréal, 2012, p. 29.
- Footnote 11
Op. cit., p. 87.
- Footnote 12
Op. cit., p. 4.
- Footnote 13
Op. cit., p. 127.
- Footnote 14
Réal Bélanger, “Henri Bourassa,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, consulted on January 4, 2013. See also Mason Wade, The French Canadians, 1760-1945, Toronto, Macmillan of Canada, 1956.
- Footnote 15
Wade, op. cit.
- Footnote 16
Wade, op. cit., p. 582.
- Footnote 17
Bock, op. cit., p. 230.
- Footnote 18
André Laurendeau, La crise de la conscription, 1942, Montréal, Les Éditions du Jour, 1962, p. 10.
- Footnote 19
- Footnote 20
André Laurendeau, Journal tenu pendant la Commission royale d'enquête sur le bilinguisme et le biculturalisme. Outremont, VLB éditeur/Le Septentrion, 1990, p. 75.
- Footnote 21
Quoted in Graham Fraser, Sorry I Don't Speak French, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 2006, p. 71.
- Footnote 22
Marcel Martel, “Hors du Québec, point de salut! Francophone Minorities and Quebec Nationalism, 1945–1969,” in Nation, Ideas, Identities: Essays in Honour of Ramsay Cook, Michael D. Behiels and Marcel Martel (eds.), Toronto, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 137–138.
- Footnote 23
Prendre sa place. Parcours et trajectoires identitaires en Ontario français, Sylvie A. Lamoureux and Megan Cotnam (eds.), Ottawa, Les Éditions David, 2012.