Conrad Black: We bought into the vision of a bilingual Canada, but Quebec’s cultural elite betrayed us
Those of us who believed in a bicultural Canada and took the trouble to achieve that status personally do not regret it, but nor do we forgive the premeditated dishonesty of Quebec’s cultural leadership.
Quebec’s Bill 96, which was featured in this column last week, like its predecessors, Bill 22 and Bill 101 , is opening up questions of the nature of Canadian Confederation. The whole idea of segregating linguistic groups in an officially bilingual country, and particularly of restricting the access of French-speaking secondary school and university students to English-language institutions, is deeply offensive. It is a cynical attempt to deny French speakers full access to the social and career opportunities available to North Americans by barricading Quebec youth into a unilingual French corner of this continent and restricting them from the opportunities available to the overwhelming majority of people living north of the Rio Grande River. It is doubly annoying because this effort has been justified under the guise of protecting French Quebecers from acculturation.
It is a brazen and thoroughly discreditable exploitation of minority cultural paranoia. English-speaking Quebecers can, as hundreds of thousands have over the last 50 years, easily move to jurisdictions where their complete liberty of self-expression is not questioned. French Quebecers, however, when barred from learning English, are shackled and immobilized for life. The rationale given for these measures is nonsense, as French Quebec is in absolutely no danger of losing its mother tongue and suddenly becoming anglophone.
There is nothing wrong with rough and devious political tactics, as long as they do not damage the welfare of any section of the public. On its face, Bill 96 appears to contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and even the Atlantic Charter composed by U. In practice, both the anglophone and francophone populations of Quebec will do what’s necessary to familiarize themselves with the English language as well as they wish, and Quebec is certainly not so oppressive that it would intervene in private or night schools. The cultural and material attractions of being conversant in the English language are well beyond the abilities of the national assembly of Quebec to challenge effectively. One of the leading Quebec nationalists of the 1930s, Philippe Hamel, said, «Conquer us with goodwill, my English-speaking compatriots, you will be amazed at the easy victory that awaits you».
I was one of those who went from Ontario to get a graduate degree at a French Quebec university and remained for some years in that province, having responded to that spirit, and I am glad that I did. But the elites in question who beckoned to us in English Canada to learn their language began almost uniformly to revile bilingualism, as it was seen as an attempt to assimilate them, an objective I have not heard anyone seriously propose for 60 years. French is a magnificent language and culture and all of us who worked hard to become at least moderately proficient in it are the beneficiaries for having done so. But that does not excuse the elites of Quebec for betraying us.
Whether we supported Pierre Trudeau or not, those of us who believed in a bicultural Canada and took the trouble to achieve that status personally do not regret it, but nor do we forgive the premeditated dishonesty of Quebec’s cultural leadership. They demanded reciprocal bilingualism because they didn’t think there was any chance that it could happen, and were dedicated to showing that Trudeau’s promise of «Masters in our own house, but our house is Canada» had no chance of success. That has left Canada an incomplete project, with Quebec officially in constitutional dissent, unwilling to take down the barriers, but unable to try to secede. Canada will outgrow these problems and be free to assume its position, rightfully aspired to and now almost within reach, of becoming a great and distinct nation, when it ceases to be, in novelist Hugh MacLennan’s expression, «Two Solitudes,» and becomes one coherent, formidable and proud nationality.
Source: Conrad Black | NP