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article imageOp-Ed: There is nothing wrong, or parochial, with Pauline Marois' French

By André R. Gignac     Aug 31, 2012 in Politics
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes the equal status of English and French as the two official languages in the country. But according to a recent paper written by journalist Lysiane Gagnon, one appears to be more equal than the other.
On August 29, the Globe and Mail published Ms. Gagnon's article, "Marois lowers the PQ's bar", in which the journalist says that if Pauline Marois is elected Premier of Québec, on September 4, the first thing Canadians outside Québec will notice is “the poor quality of her English”. She goes on to say that Ms. Marois shares this “flaw” with François Legault, who’s on his way to becoming opposition leader if recent polls find their way into the ballot boxes.
She informs us that, oh, cherry on the sundae, Françoise David, leader of the socialist Québec-Solidaire, is also “weak in English, even though she comes from an upper-class family”, and adds: “This linguistic ignorance at the highest level is totally unprecedented in Quebec politics and, frankly, unexplainable.”
Lysiane Gagnon’s biggest fear seems to be that “the end result” of such ignorance of the English language “is that it will be harder for leaders speaking for Quebec to engage in easy and direct talks with counterparts in the rest of Canada, let alone with governors of neighbouring American states”.
Gee. You couldn’t do better if you wanted a sign of the becharming power of linguistic imperialism. And if you thought journalists were an open-minded liberal lot, you've just been proven wrong (it also means you have not been paying any attention to Peter Kent, but that’s another story).
As if that was not bad enough, she continues: “Unfortunately, it will reinforce the perception of Quebec as a parochial, closed society – an image that betrays the reality.”
First of all, anyone who has listened to Pauline Marois knows for a fact that her English is… well, awful. But, darn, so is the French of more than half of Canadian provincial and territorial leaders. Does this “linguistic ignorance at the highest level” make it difficult for them to deal with Québec, or with France for that matter? Does the inability of Premier Brad Wall to have a meaningful conversation in French make Saskatchewan look like a parochial and closed society? I think not.
Did the world explode when American and Soviet leaders argued over the phone, one in English the other in Russian, while both had a finger on a red button? We came close to it, but it was not because of linguistic ignorance.
Secondly, the word is “translator”. Translators were the friends of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy when he met other leaders in international venues. Did his “linguistic ignorance” cause international chaos? Just ask Angela Merkel. She had to receive the German translation of the English translation of what he was saying in French, but she was nonetheless publicly hoping for Sarkozy's re-election.
Of course, now France has a new president in François Hollande, and here’s what he had to say about it: “Yes, I speak English, more fluently than the former president. But a French president has to speak French!”
Is it so difficult to think that Pauline Marois, as Premier of the only Francophone state in North America, could express herself in French when meeting English-speaking premiers, or governors of neighbouring American states, without Canada and the US falling apart? What wrongs would it do to other Canadian premiers, or to Québec’s interests, if once a year meetings of the Council of the Federation were to use simultaneous translation, as it happens in all other international meetings?
Language differences have never been an impediment to frank and direct talks between politicians and diplomats, and world leaders do not usually complain about linguistic ignorance when, for example, a Japanese representative addresses a meeting in his or her own language.
We are all too aware that English is the new lingua franca, but it does not necessarily entail the death of other cultures and languages, and there is nothing wrong when one culture, case in point that of Ms. Marois’, expresses itself through its own language.
The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada reaffirms its commitment to fostering “the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society”.
Let us extend this recognition to the highest level.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadian official languages, pauline marois, Lysiane Gagnon, Globe and mail
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