John Baird Investigated for Faux Pas
Language legislation is utterly insane and is designed to encourage bigotry. There is no precedence anywhere for unity being enhanced through a policy of two official languages.
For my non-Canadian readers – a little background before we start.
Canada has two official languages: English and French. Their status was written into law in 1969 with the Official Languages Act; a somewhat misguided attempt to placate the province of Quebec which is predominately French-speaking. The government of the day thought, based on recommendations from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, that promoting both languages to equal official status would end talk of Quebec separation and make everyone feel happy and egalitarian.
Less than a year later, all hell broke loose in Quebec during what is now called the October Crisis. The Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) an extreme Quebec nationalist group, kidnapped Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross. Mr. Cross was subsequently released but Pierre Laporte was murdered and his body left in the trunk of a car which only goes to prove that it isn’t just Islamic Jihadists that are barbaric.
The Mayor of Montreal and the Premier of Quebec both called on the federal government to implement the War Measures Act which basically suspended habeus corpus and allowed for arrest and detention without warrant. Literally over night, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa awoke to armed troops in their streets.
It remains the only time in Canada’s history that anything even remotely resembling martial law has ever been imposed in this country.
By the end of 1970, 24 FLQ terrorists were in prison with four convicted of murder although that didn’t end the nationalist/separatist cause. The province of Quebec went the other way, all but outlawing English and holding three referendums asking Quebecers for a mandate to separate the province from Canada. Each time, the citizens of Quebec rejected the separatist option.
Canada has spent more than $100 billion implementing official bilingualism although it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand why. The federal government operates in both languages and Canadians have the legal right to interact with their government in either language. All documentation must be produced in both French and English which has been a bonanza for translators and has significantly increased both the cost, and the time it takes, to produce those documents.
I suppose it would be all worth it if there had been some marked improvement in the bilingual capacity of Canadians but there hasn’t (unless you count Mandarin). The simple fact is that after four decades and $100 billion, the number of Canadians who are functionally bilingual (French and English) has increased by a paltry 2% and that number is as much the result of shifting birth rates and immigration.
Based on all of that you would think that a nation that is multi-cultural but where the cradle language of more than 70% of the population is English might consider revising its language policy especially where many who are bilingual speak English and a language other than French. Even if the nation didn’t feel it appropriate to take away official status from the French Language, it might at least feel it appropriate to bring the cost more in line with the percentage of the general population that is French-speaking.
We actually have been a bit stubborn about it all. We created our own version of the Office de la Langue Francais which is the government agency in Quebec responsible for scouring the towns and villages in Quebec for the use of English on menus, signs, web sites and perhaps in the not too distant future, tattoos on your ass.
Last year they got quite upset about the use of the word ‘pasta’ on a menu in an Italian restaurant and only backed off when it was pointed out that pasta is actually an Italian, not an English, word.
This language stuff isn’t as easy as it looks.
The Canadian version is called the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and its current commissioner is Graham Fraser; an earnest man who has taken to his role with all of the fervor of a religious zealot.
He’s a regular missionary who doesn’t see his role as one of promoting the use of both languages but rather of policing their use and subsequently swooping down on those who, regardless of their mother tongue, are not using both equally. He’s even gone so far as to send out secret shoppers, or spies as they are sometimes called, into private businesses in order to test their bilingual capabilities.
Mr. Fraser was undeterred by the fact that the Official Languages Act does not apply to the private sector – only to the federal government. He is a true believer and like all true believers he believes the rules should apply to everyone – even when they don’t.
His target now is federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who apparently has sent out more tweets in English than he has in French. According to Mr. Fraser, this is a grave contravention of the Official Languages Act; a faux pas of immense proportions. It doesn’t matter how many English vs French speaking Canadians access Mr. Baird’s Twitter account – their must be equality. It doesn’t even matter that the tweets are 140 character fluff for the most part.
If it is said in English it must be said in French. Besides, this is the second time Mr. Baird run afoul of the Language Police. He committed the faux pas of ‘English-only” business cards.
Phew! The arrogance of it takes my breath away. Imagine; a piece of paper with your name and address on it in only one language. Outrageous!
With such blatant disregard for mandatory bilingualism, understandably our Language Czar is investigating with all of the zeal and enthusiasm of an anti-Oil Sands crusader at a rally in front of the White House. I suppose this probably means he has some clerk in his office sifting through Mr. Baird’s account and counting up all of the English tweets versus all the French tweets. He will then write a draft report which will be circulated for comment– in both official languages – it will be revised, reworked, re-circulated, re-translated and some day, in the future it will be forwarded to government for action.
The Opposition parties are salivating at the prospect of harassing Mr. Baird in Question Period when they return from wherever it is they disappear in the summer. The poor dears; they don’t realize they;re probably already in Mr. Fraser’s cross hairs.
The investigation is a process that takes so long that there is a real possibility that Mr. Baird will have retired from government and moved on to saner pastures before the investigation and the report are completed.
But wait! The thicken plots so to speak.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement has publicly announced he will quit Twitter if the Language Commissioner ‘overlords’ his Twitter account. Obviously Mr Clement and Mr. Baird are in cahoots against the Language Commissioner. . . the evil cahooters! It’s a conspiracy no less only uncovered thanks to the diligence of the Language Commissioner and his earnest minions.
Christ in Heaven! The way this scandal is unfolding it could quickly overtake the Senate Expense Scandal in both size and scope. I’ll bet the PMO is involved somehow.
Thank Jesus that we have Graham Fraser standing on guard for us.
Imagine the damage that would be done to government, not to mention Canadian society, by a cabinet minister (and God alone knows how many others) who failed to follow the Official Languages Act in their 140 character tweets on Twitter.
The horror of it is too much to consider at least for Mr. Fraser. No doubt he will now have his dedicated minions scour the Twitter accounts of every Member of Parliament, counting and comparing the number of French and English tweets. This could take months, maybe even years and no doubt Mr. Fraser will be submitting a request to Parliament for additional funding to complete the task.
People who use Twitter are called Tweeps but I think a more appropriate name would be Twits; at least for our Language Commissioner and his small band of linguistic auditors. The Official Languages Act states that all Canadians have the right to interact with their government in either official language at their choice. It does not state that every word, thought or sentence that comes out of the mouths of people in government has to be simultaneously translated. Politicians and bureaucrats are people (barely) too and just like the rest of us they have a choice of which language to use. This kind of petty foolishness by the Language Commissioner denigrates the intent of the legislation and demeans government. It is also divisive in a nation that badly needs more unity.
I suppose some will think I am being too harsh on the poor fellow but personally I think Mr. Fraser’s time would better spent, and we would be better served, if he made recommendations to revise the Official Languages Act to make it less intrusive. I have little patience for a bureaucrat wrapping himself in legislation like a flag of righteousness as a means to waste his time and our money on such frivolous nonsense.
Language is about communication, not simply politics and if in this 21st Century we haven’t matured enough as a nation to be able to communicate with each other in whatever language we choose; then we haven’t matured at all. It is beyond absurd to have some government bureaucrat telling people what language they must use when communicating.
Mandarin is the fastest growing language in Canada – French has declined slightly and the overwhelming majority of Canadians speak English either as a first or second language It’s long past time that politicians and bureaucrats remembered that what is important is our ability to communicate with, and to understand, each other. That is the purpose of language. It is organic and it evloves. It is fluid and this nonsense does nothing to advance either tolerance or understanding.
The simple fact is that $100 billion wasted on official bilingualism would have been far better spent on things like health care, national defense, infrastructure or paying off former Alberta Premier Allison Redford’s travel expenses.
We don’t have either the time or the money to waste on this language stupidity any longer so back off Mr. Fraser. This country, and indeed the world, have far more serious issues with which to deal than the Twitter accounts of a couple of cabinet ministers.
© 2014 Maggie’s Bear
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