Something is rotten in the state of the Office québécois de la langue française. The chaotic sortie of its five-year report is one more sign of how disturbingly politicized it's become over the years.
On Wednesday, OQLF president France Boucher released a 200-page report, 1,000 pages of studies and a mishmash of statistics. Although many statistics confirm data from the 2006 census showing a decline of the French language, especially on the Island of Montreal, Boucher refused to deliver any analysis or even qualify the state of the French language.
She even had the gall to ask ordinary Quebecers to read the studies themselves to make their own analysis. There was also her Soviet-style treatment of the members of the committee in charge of reviewing the report. She asked these independent academics to take a vow of silence, told them they'd be sent into a locked room to read the report with no cellphones, no computers and no documents of their own. They had to destroy their notes before they left.
The academics refused and denounced what they called the OQLF's paranoia. The head of the committee, Simon Langlois, resigned over what he described as an abusive climate of distrust, excessive control and improvization. Boucher even refused to brief journalists before she released more than 1,000 pages of studies for them to go through in just a few hours.
In any normal government, she would have been fired on the spot for any or all of those things. But ever since Lucien Bouchard, who feared the language issue like the plague, turned the OQLF into a neutered extension of the premier's office, Boucher's silence and bullying tactics should assure her a long life at the head of the OQLF.
In fact, Boucher had nothing to say about French losing ground on the Island of Montreal and the suburbs, or about only 65 per cent of people working in French on the island, or about only 45.7 per cent of allophones choosing French as a second language, compared with the 54.3 per cent who choose English. No word, either, on the 40 per cent of allophone kids who went to French high school choosing to go to an English CEGEP.
Boucher is a problem. Parti Québécois language critic Pierre Curzi said Boucher is either incompetent or the victim of pressure from the premier's office. Sorry, but it looks like both.
But the real problem behind the growing politization of the OQLF is its very nature. Contrary to what Language Minister Christine St-Pierre says, the OQLF is not independent from the government. You couldn't tell by the power struggle between Boucher and St-Pierre, but the OQLF answers and reports to the minister by law. Part of its mandate is to monitor the language situation. So contrary to what Boucher contends, it the OQLF's mandate to analyze.
Since it is not independent, the OQLF's president is named by the premier's office. This opens the door to nominations based on politicial affiliation, not competence. Such was the case for Boucher, a former Liberal aide.
Over the years, OQLF presidents learned quickly that if they want to keep their job - a lucrative five-year posting that can be terminated at any time - it's crucial to reflect what's politically desirable for their real boss, the premier.
It all makes one thing painfully obvious: The OQLF should be rendered as independent from the government as the auditor-general. This means making it answerable to the National Assembly and having all sitting parties choose its president based on competence, not based on the political masters he or she once served.
If the OQLF is not changed, it will continue to follow the whims of the government du jour and fail to inform Quebecers fully about the state of French.
It is absolutely irresponsible that the monitoring and analysis of what most distinguishes the Quebec nation from the rest of the continent - its language - isn't handled by a competent and politically independent agency.
Language office has become too political
The head of the OQLF should be chosen by all parties in the National Assembly