Let the (bilingual) games begin

17. Actualité archives 2007

Get over it. That's advice for the nitpickers and naysayers whose knickers soon may be in a knot because B.C.'s 2010 Olympic Games will be an officially bilingual affair.

That's because the Vancouver-Whistler event is as federal an extravaganza as it is a provincial one and inevitably, when the federal government gets involved, things go bilingual.

A standing Senate committee on official languages recently issued a report challenging B.C. to meet its obligations and expend more effort to host an officially bilingual Games.

The Vancouver Olympics are benefitting from at least $1 billion in federal money, so anti-French British Columbians will have to get used to the fact that the Games will be bilingual, the Vancouver Sun's Barbara Yaffe writes.
That prompted James Moore, parliamentary secretary to David Emerson, minister responsible for the Olympics, to declare: "The two official languages will be respected and are an essential part of the 2010 Games."

In the winter of 2007, locals are apt to grumble more about their city being torn up around them with the accompanying traffic chaos.

But as 2010 rolls around, there will be grousing about the French language infiltrating the confines of B.C.

After all, additional spending will be required to host a bilingual Games.

And doubtless, unilingual anglos will have a tougher time capitalizing on Olympics-related job opportunities. Vanoc, the Vancouver Organizing Committee, estimates no fewer than 1,200 full-time and 3,500 part-time jobs will become available.

No firm target for bilingual staff has been set, media relations officer Mary Fraser says. The goal simply is to hire "as many bilingual Canadians as possible."

Current postings on the Vanoc website feature, at the top of the list, a receptionist's job: "Fluency in French is required."

Vancouver residents will also have to adjust to bilingual signs that will surely sprout, throughout Vancouver and Whistler, in advance of the Games.
The Office quebecois de la langue francaise -- sometimes denigrated as the language police -- is standing by to assist Vanoc with translation-related terminology.

It remains to be seen how annoyed British Columbians are going to get. But here's hoping the issue does not become inflammatory. Canada's language wars, so long and drawn out, involved divisive constitutional discussions through the 1970s and '80s and played a role in the staging of two excruciating Quebec referendums. Mercifully, those wars are over.

Linguistically and culturally, Canada appears to have reached an accommodation its citizens can live with, and has moved on. These days this ethnically varied, bilingual country proudly presents itself to the world as an oasis where diverse communities come together in peace.

But, of course, there's always a vocal minority to stir the pot. An e-mail with a subject line "Re: French at the Olympics," from a group with a website languagefairness.ca, warned this week: "It has left Quebec and it's coming your way. Wake up Western Canada. It's only going to get worse."

These folks would point out that less than one per cent of B.C.'s 4.3 million residents are from francophone homes and that Mandarin is more commonly spoken. And if the 2010 Olympics were exclusively a provincial undertaking, that might be a relevant consideration.

But even while Olympic Games officially are awarded by the International Olympic Committee to host cities, national governments are always heavily involved. Athletes enter the Olympic stadium behind national, not municipal or state, flags.

And remember, the federal government is paying through the proverbial nose for the 2010 Games.

Of $2.5 billion being doled out directly and indirectly in support of the B.C.-based sportsfest, $1 billion is coming right out of the pockets of Canadians beyond B.C.'s boundaries.

The Department of Canadian Heritage correctly points out on its website that "the eyes of the world will be focused on Canada" during the Olympics and Paralympics. More than 6,500 athletes and officials from 80 countries will attend, as will 10,000 journalists and 250,000 visitors.

"The government of Canada is determined to make [the Olympics] a celebration that is on par with its ambitions and to ensure that the two official languages in Canada are fully integrated into the planning and organizing of the Games."
With so many global guests set to drop by, all that can be observed about the holding of an officially bilingual Games is that it really would make more sense to hold a trilingual Games.

Barbara Yaffe writes for the Vancouver Sun.

E-mail: byaffe@png.canwest.com

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