Crucial Crossroad for the English-speaking Community

Word from the President
– Alexander Reford

Is the English-speaking community of Québec at a crucial crossroads? Reading the media coverage of the past several weeks suggests that we are. Aside from the absurd and almost surreal events surrounding “Pastagate” (where inspectors from the Office Québécoise de la langue française suggested to Montreal restaurants that they should remove words such “pasta” and “WC” from their establishments), there is a change at both the provincial and the federal level.

At the provincial level, new legislation (Bill 14) is proposing to modify the laws governing the use of French (and thereby English) in the province. And at the federal level, the government has done nothing tangible to affirm its commitment to the official languages and is perceived as being a tepid enthusiast when it comes to promoting the vision of a bilingual Canada or at the very least a bilingual federal civil service.

Those of us living in the Lower St. Lawrence have always lived a very different linguistic existence than English-speakers in other parts of the province. Where I grew up in the Outaouais region of Québec, we were used to having English schools, churches, Cégep, newspaper and access to English-language arts, entertainment and culture. And our governments, be it municipal, provincial and federal, could serve us in the language of our choice. The same was true for the English-speaking communities in Montreal and environs, the Eastern Townships and elsewhere in the province. In our region, this has never been the case. We have a handful of institutions and never expect to be served by government staff in English. So should we be worried? Are the changes bringing new threats?

Sober analysis suggests that the proposed changes will further weaken the English-speaking community and its institutions. They will weaken mobility and further limit access to English-language schools. And if nothing else, they set a tone that suggests that English is a foreign language in Quebec and that the English-speaking community is a threat. The debate is decades old and it is difficult to separate perception from truth. And the battleground to preserve and promote French as the language of work and culture is mostly a battle confined to Montreal and the surrounding communities. In our area, where less than 1% of the population speaks English as a mother tongue, our community poses no threat. And recent initiatives by Heritage Lower St. Lawrence, such as the creation of a bilingual library and the hosting of events and workshops for community members in English and French suggests that our community is very forward-thinking when it comes to promoting literacy and reading in all languages.

One hopes that the democratic process will improve the legislation and the language climate. And a new commitment by the federal government to bilingualism and to support learning and using French and English will re-affirm the virtues of a bilingual Canada. In the mean time, our organization will continue its efforts to serve our community, all the while offering to our region an example of how linguistic harmony can be achieved and lived on a daily basis.

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