Francophones in Ontario fought hard for the right to government services and documentation in French. That right was entrenched in the 1986 French Language Services Act, whose preamble affirmed the province’s desire to preserve the cultural heritage of French-speaking residents.
Imagine their shock when a tourist brochure from Tourisme Québec arrived at the door in English only. Instead of being appreciated by French-speaking Quebecers, it seems, franco-Ontarians found themselves lumped in with English-speakers in Ontario and the northeastern United States.
The issue of a single tourism brochure might seem of little consequence, but it said a lot about a province that is reluctant, at best, to provide information in English to Quebec anglophones.
English-speaking Quebecers are often made to feel like second-class citizens in their own province by their own government. And nationalist organizations such as the Société St Jean Baptiste are usually fast off the mark when they think francophones in Quebec have been slighted, but less so, it seems, if they live outside Quebec.
Anglophones can be forgiven for wondering what principle Quebec is protecting. The sanctity of the French language ? Then why didn’t it acknowledge Ontario’s nearly 600,000 francophones, many of them concentrated in the Ottawa region, the very area that Tourisme Québec had targeted.
Tourisme Québec officials were slow to apologize to Ontario’s French-speakers, saying they had a limited budget and the brochure was intended for a U.S. market as well.
Faced with angry franco-Ontarians and media inquiries, the government tourism department decided it could, after all, find the money to send French-language brochures to French-speaking Ontario residents.
"I get advertising in French from Canadian Tire and Loblaws, why can’t the Quebec government do the same thing ?" Ontario resident Jean-Marie Leduc asked the Globe and Mail this week. That’s a very good question. French-speakers in Canada have - rightly - demanded they be served in their language. Governments and the private sector have made great strides in meeting this demand.
And now the government of Quebec can’t be bothered ? Where’s the principle here ?