Sauce for the goose
Don’t you just love Quebecers and their views on language? Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau gave a speech recently that was almost entirely in English. He admitted that he couldn’t speak French and allowed as how he’d got along just fine in Montreal for more than a decade without speaking French. He even congratulated Montrealers, saying, “I think that’s a testament to the city.”
Rousseau might as well have admitted to committing sexual harassment so noisy were the complaints that ensued. “Anglophone privilege,” said one, “with a touch of contempt on the side.” Rousseau has since undertaken to learn French.
Such a pursuit won’t be easy for someone like him who is sixty-two. Learning a new language comes more easily to those who are much younger. I tried mightily to learn French when I was in my 20s by taking Berlitz courses. While I became able to understand speeches in French and conduct one-on-one conversations, I’d quickly get lost if I participated with two or three Francophones as dialogue bounced back and forth amongst the group.
Language is also political. The Official Languages Act is all about the availability of government services in both languages. I don’t think the legislation applies to lunch-time orators. For the most part, Quebecers have created a nation within a nation where French is the preferred language. The number of bilingual Canadians is around 17% and I daresay the vast majority are Quebecers.
A few years ago, I was commissioned by an accounting firm to write their corporate history. The celebratory book launch was held in Montreal. The first speaker was the Toronto-based CEO who delivered brief comments in English with a paragraph in French. He was followed by many other speakers. The event lasted an unrelenting hour-and-a-half — all in French. Such one-sided behaviour didn’t cause a ripple of concern among the crowd or the community. Quebecers seem all too happy to carry on with the two solitudes that others have tried unsuccessfully to bridge since the 1960s. Quel dommage!