A nation afraid of itself

French is no longer threatened in Quebec, if it ever really was.

Miroir déformant...

The decision by Édouard-Montpetit junior college in Longueuil, a
francophone institution, to teach an English course in aircraft maintenance
has Quebec nationalists, teachers' unions and student groups demanding the
course’s cancellation for fear that creeping English instruction will
change the French character of the school.
Jean-Paul Perreault, president of Imperatif français, Monday said, “The
working language of Quebec is French and teaching institutions have a
responsibility to bring up a new generation able to work in French.”
He boasted that two other francophone junior colleges, including one near
Ottawa, had tried to introduce courses in English but backed off.
Edouard-Montpetit’s director-general, Serge Brasset, reminded critics that
the aircraft maintenance course is for anglophone students who won’t be
able to get the training elsewhere. Edouard-Montpetit has taken anglophone
students into the third year of the program for the past 37 years but it
was taught in French. The first two years of the program at the École
nationale d'aerotechnique had previously been offered at John Abbott
College. But today, only Édouard-Montpetit teaches aircraft maintenance in
Quebec and provides Transport Canada accreditation. There’s nowhere else to
For those who wonder why Quebec has among the highest poverty rates in
North America and one of the lowest growth rates, they need look no further
than this incident. It contains the answers to that question and indeed
reflects the seeds of this province’s continuing self-destruction.
Perreault is wrong about language in Quebec and institutional
responsibility to French. Quebec is still part of Canada and both English and French are official languages. The only responsibility educational
institutions should have is to the students — to prepare them to compete
effectively in an increasingly competitive globalized world where bilingual
language skills would be an asset. Students need knowledge, not dogma.
For Perreault to gloat that intimidation by language thugs, whether in
their state or societal manifestations, succeeded in two other cases is as
stomach-turning as watching old newsreels of rednecks in the American
south. Quebecers can compete! Only the profiteers of prejudice like
Perreault want to keep the old wars raging. If there was ever a time for
the Quebec government to step in once and for all and put an end to this
nonsense, it is now.
The provincial government should seize this moment and implement a
quality, bilingual, non-denominational school system through the CEGEP
level for all Quebecers. But the province will probably fail all of us, of
whatever linguistic stripe, again. As the New 940 Montreal’s Caroline
Phaneuf said so well, “Government is afraid of its own people.”
French is no longer threatened in Quebec, if it ever really was. The
language issue was nothing more than a vote magnet to begin with, always
pandering to the lowest common parochial denominator. Quebecers have the
skills to pursue excellence despite the constraints of low limitations
imposed by politicians. Two years ago Montreal surpassed Boston as the
North American city with the highest per-capita number of students in
post-secondary education. But they have nowhere to go after graduation!
Just last month 62 medical school graduates from Université de Montreal and
McGill announced they were leaving the province.
Many of the best and the brightest have already left. Our constrictive
language laws, bureaucratic fiats, uncontrollable public sector unions and
suffocating taxation have conspired to ensure a double-whammy of emigration
of people and elimination of investment. Four hundred thousand francophones
left for Toronto over the past several decades. An equal number have gone
to Florida. Even in sectors like aviation, where Quebec is strong,
incidents like this CEGEP debate, give industry serious concern.
Director general Brasset argued that the aerospace industry has warned of
a shortage of qualified manpower in a couple of years. Aviation worldwide
uses English as its lingua franca. That’s not an anglo conspiracy. These
rules are imposed by IATA and ICAO and affect airports in every world
capital. Boeing’s manuals are in English. Eh, bonjour Quebec!
Last December, soon after the “nation” motion passed in the House of
Commons, the Montreal Economic Institute’s Nathalie Elgrably wrote, “Ce
n’est past la motion qui fait la nation.” It’s not a motion that makes a
“nation”. It’s not words that matter. It’s actions. It’s about walking the
talk. That means having confidence in our own abilities. Having the courage
to say to the world that we are here and ready to be important players.
Until Quebecers are ready to do that, they will continue to be isolated in
their little “village of Quebec” as Jean Dorion called it, growing ever
less relevant and worrying their pathetic insecurities like precious gems
in their palms.
Serge Brasset has said, “I think that culturally, francophone Quebecers
are strong enough that they would welcome 35 students from anglophone
schools into a college of 7,000.”
We better hope he’s right. Because if he isn’t, then we not only live
under a government that is afraid of its people, but we live in a “nation”
that is afraid of itself.

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Beryl Wajsman14 articles

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Beryl Wajsman is president of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal www.iapm.ca, publisher of BARRICADES Magazine www.barricades.ca, and host of Corus Radio’s “The Last Angry Man” on the New 940Montreal. He can be reached at: info@iapm.ca.

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