Canada is as bilingual as it is going to get

Fact: In almost fifty years and with billions of dollars spent on French in all provinces and territories outside of Quebec, Canada’s bilingualism rate has only increased by 3%, from 7% in 1967 to 10% of the population now.

Yet, Canada’s official languages commissioner Graham Fraser recommends the Harper government spend even more money in order to “do more for bilingualism.” As the National Post editorial writer asks: Why?

Why indeed? Instead, why not propose some equity in this country and allow unilingual English speakers to work in the public service in areas of the country where only English is spoken or unilingual French speakers to work in the public service in communities where French is the primary language?

Look, people will only become fully bilingual when they have to. Without practice and opportunity to speak both official languages,  bilingualism just can’t happen.  For example, although I was born in Toronto, my family moved to Quebec when I was 10 years old and later to Ottawa (which is as officially bilingual as you can get in this country).

In Quebec, we lived in a bedroom community just off Montreal Island in Laval on a small, wonderful island called “Ile Bigras.” I went to Lake of Two Mountains High School in Saint-Eustache, an all-English school from the early grades right through to high school graduation. However, while the school was officially English, most of my classes were in French.

And, of course on Ile Bigras, my new friends were either French speaking or already bilingual. I was on the local baseball and swimming teams, for instance, where no English was spoken or heard.

So, out of necessity and opportunity, I learned to understand and speak French in less than a year. Reading in French, however, was always a challenge. Nevertheless, as a result of that “opportunity,” I became fluently bilingual.

However, trying to speak French today would be another story. And, therein lies the opportunity problem. I moved away from Ottawa in my thirties and have hardly spoken a word of French since. Oh sure, if I was plunked down in Quebec for a few weeks, it would likely come back.

But, my point is that this country will never be fully bilingual when English speakers do not have the opportunity to converse in French and vice versa, when French speakers in Quebec don’t have to speak English. T’is just human nature and the essence of learning — practice, practice, practice.

As the saying goes, use it or lose it! And, since most Canadians don’t have the opportunity to use a second official language, Canada is as bilingual as it is going to get. So, I agree with the NP’s conclusion, let’s disband Mr. Fraser’s office and let Canadians find their natural level for speaking French and/or English on their own.

6 thoughts on “Canada is as bilingual as it is going to get

  1. Instead of sending money to Quebec, I am for having the provinces providing more local language instruction. Okay!

    As soon as Quebec scraps their language police, allows English equal protection.

    Until they stop punishing immigrants into choosing French vs English, I don’t see any interest in wasting more money.

    Each province is responsible for delivery of Education, and prioritize their language training services.

    If French is not a significant part of the population in the region, it should not be legislated or used to restrict employability.


  2. I think all the money wasted on trying to make us all bilingual is just useless.
    It has probably cost us more, over the years, than security at the coming summits.
    I get really upset that most questions in QP are asked/answered in French.
    Why don’t mps have to be bilingual and only use English in the HofC so the majority of canadians could understand them.
    Catering to Quebec for 40 years or more has not worked, Cut all equalization and let them try to go it on their own, and then separate if they chose.


  3. What bothers me is that any product imported has to have contents listed in both French and English,so some companies just don’t bother trying to enter the Canadian market.

    Official bilingualism,I believe ,is Pierre Trudeau’s revenge on the Anglos, from his rebellious days in the early forties.

    Ironically, much of Canada IS fluently bilingual, it just ain’t French that’s the second language.


  4. Mary T — I hesitate to equate bilingualism with equalization. They are completely separate issues. I understand the frustration, but I don’t want this post to become Quebec bashing. There are other communities, such as in Ontario, where there is a lot of French spoken, communities I have lived. But, because they were actually bilingual, I didn’t lose my French until I moved away. Like Ottawa, North Bay and Welland. And, of course, New Brunswick and Cape Breton comes to mind, as well as some Manitoba communities. So, in situations like that, when young kids take French Immersion, it makes sense because they can speak the language outside of school and later when they are employed. But, to have bilingual services in every court and legislature in the land is a bit much. I doubt you hear much, if any, English in the Quebec National Assembly.


  5. If a Bloc member asked me a question in the house in French, I would not respond to him/her in French..fair is fair..!


  6. We can’t expect that common sense will prevail. Canadian taxpayer has spent multi- billions of dollars on this failed program ( Graham Fraser admits that) and we still continue to spend large gobs of money and they want to spend more. Trudeau originally said we will have bilingualism where numbers warrant and named several bilingual districts but the fool Mulroney decided we should make all of Canada officially bilingual except Quebec. Sad part of all this waste of money we were told it would pacify Quebec and as everybody has seen it hasn’t done the least ( 66% of Quebec MP’s are Bloc members (separatists).
    Also remember Trudeau said his plan was not to make or force Canadians to be bilingual but to allow people to deal with the federal government in either official language. Who is responsible for driving this Official Bilingualism train off the track?

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