Louise Harel sends the wrong message

Montréal - élection 2009

If Louise Harel is elected mayor of Montreal on Nov. 1, she will be the mayor of everyone who lives in this city, not just of those who voted for her.
She might prefer to only think of Montreal as the largest French-speaking city in North America and the cultural centre of French Quebec, but she should remember that one in five of the city's residents is an anglophone.
So far, she has shown little sign of viewing the 700,000 English-speakers who live in the Montreal area as anything but an irritation.
The English-language television network CTV invited her to take part in a debate in English with Mayor Gérald Tremblay, but Harel said no, saying her level of English isn't good enough to debate public policy issues.
Harel chose to preserve her self-esteem rather than risk appearing awkward by trying to explain in English to English-speaking voters what she is offering them.
Anglophone voters can correctly conclude that if she won't even try to speak to them, Harel is offering them precisely nothing. Her refusal to debate in English will only add to anglophone fears that her past as a former cabinet minister with the Parti Québécois government means has prejudiced her against English-speakers.
Hiding behind a lack of flawless bilingualism sends a bad signal to all Montrealers. People in Montreal get along as well as they do because they do not treat each other as a foreign and incomprehensible species. By refusing to speak to anglophones, Harel seems to have written them off.
She should have welcomed the opportunity to explain herself to anglophone voters. When she told Radio Canada that she wants to cut the number of boroughs because they've turned into ethnic ghettos, does that mean we're on our way back to a mega-city? Or that she disapproves of ethnic enclaves? Or, worse yet, ethnics themselves?
If she wants Montrealers to pull together, she has gone about it all wrong: She is digging the linguistic divide deeper by her refusal to debate in English.
And it's not just anglos who think that. A poll this month found that a large majority of Montrealers think it's important their mayor is bilingual. Let's try it again: An English debate with all the candidates.

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