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COLUMN: Let's follow Quebec's lead, declare English Alberta's official language

"Let’s face it, the French language globally has been declining for decades, replaced not just by English, but also by Mandarin and Spanish."
Allred Ken-P
Columnist Ken Allred

“Official bilingualism is not about language ... official bilingualism is about political power.”

Peter Brimelow, The Patriot Game

Oui, "Je me souviens," the Quebec separatist referendum in 1995, and I also remember the Meech Lake Accord and Bill 101, the 1977 law that made French the business language in Quebec, barring non-french signs and advertisements.There was also Bill 21 which, with the application of the federal notwithstanding clause, banned religious symbols in the public service, thus restricting the rights particularly of Quebec minorities.

Once again, Quebec is coming to the table with a proposal to amend the Canadian Constitution to declare Quebec a nation and make French the only official language of the province. Not surprisingly, our prime minister is endorsing the move.

Interestingly, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has endorsed the Quebec move, commenting: “Rather than fighting Quebec over the exercise of its powers, I look to Quebec with a degree of admiration.”

The signal for Quebec Premier Francois Legault is apparently the tabling of the document: English and French: Towards a Substantive Equality of Official Languages in Canada, by the Minster of Official Languages, Melanie Joly, in February.

The 50 proposals in this document purport to make bilingualism mandatory for all Supreme Court justices and increase bilingualism in the federal civil service, among other issues. As this document states: “The development of digital technology and international trade is favouring the use of English. As a result, the use of French is declining in Canada and its vitality is a cause of concern.”

However, in an analysis of the policy options document entitled: Is Modernizing the Official Languages Act a Mission Impossible?, Mario Polese concluded that, “The focus is not on bilingualism ... but on saving French.”

Let’s face it, the French language globally has been declining for decades, replaced not just by English, but also by Mandarin and Spanish. We can't stop that trend either globally or within Canada or even within Quebec, and that is obviously the objective of the government of Quebec in making a last-ditch effort to save it.

But if Quebec can amend the Constitution of Canada, so can we. Assuming the federal government supports Legault’s proposition, as both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole already have, let’s propose legislation to declare English as the only official language in Alberta.

Let’s be honest about bilingualism in Canada and quit pretending the adoption of the Official Languages Act has created a bilingual country. The only bilingual province in Canada is New Brunswick; Quebec is factually unilingual, as are all of the other provinces, despite the Official Languages Act. The Act has, however, created a civil service that is almost exclusively composed of Quebecers and others whose first language is French.

It is extremely difficult for English-speaking Canadians to become fluent in a language they have little opportunity to use on a regular basis. I, myself, have taken French many times over the years but not having the opportunity to use it on a regular basis, I struggle to put together a sentence to talk to my seven-year-old grandson who is in French immersion.

This may be seen as another concession to Quebec, but let’s join in on the fray and get some recognition for Alberta’s interests.

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert Alderman and MLA.

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