Lan­guage czars can’t han­dle the job

The fu­ture of the French lan­guage in Que­bec rests in very shaky hands

Montreal Gazette - - Opinion - JOSÉE LE­GAULT

W ho’s mind­ing the store? Hardly a week goes by with­out an­other story con­firm­ing what a mess the lan­guage is­sue has be­come in Que­bec.

With the back­drop of the 2006 cen­sus show­ing that French is los­ing ground on the Is­land of Mon­treal, the Charest gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to re­main un­fazed.

Last week, Le Devoir re­ported that the gov­ern­ment of Que­bec com­mu­ni­cates in English with a stag­ger­ing three-quar­ters of al­lo­phone im­mi­grants at their re­quest. Le Devoir also re­ported that the gov­ern­ment vi­o­lates pro­vi­sions of Bill 101 by com­mu­ni­cat­ing in English, or us­ing bilin­gual ma­te­rial, with Que­becbased com­pa­nies that ask it to.

In other words, un­like most states, the gov­ern­ment of Que­bec, be it un­der the Lib­er­als or the Parti Québé­cois, fails to im­pose the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the state in its com­mu­ni­ca­tions with com­pa­nies or new­com­ers, and has let the re­verse be­come the rule.

With this lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude, it’s no sur­prise that even though Lan­guage Min­is­ter Chris­tine StPierre has shown her­self in­ca­pable of han­dling this com­plex ques­tion, she re­mains in place.

As for France Boucher, pres­i­dent of the Of­fice québé­cois de la langue française, she has proven to be a ver­i­ta­ble dis­as­ter. It started in Jan­uary when St-Pierre went around say­ing the OQLF had done a se­ri­ous study show­ing that French was the lan­guage of ser­vice in more than 90 per cent of Mon­treal stores. It turned out there was no such study, only an un­sci­en­tific sur­vey done with no pre­cise data.

Then the psy­chodrama of the OQLF five-year re­port en­sued. First, we learned that the Of­fice had with­held for more than a year rig­or­ous stud­ies by re­spected aca­demics show­ing that French was los­ing ground. When Boucher fi­nally re­leased her re­port, she stub­bornly re­fused to qual­ify the sta­tus of French.

It also came out that she had treated mem­bers of the re­port’s sci­en­tific fol­low-up com­mit­tee with great dis­re­spect. One for­mer mem­ber re­ferred to her at­ti­tude as sheer para­noia. Boucher then upped her dis­dain at a re­cent par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion where she ac­tu­ally called the com­mit­tee a “pigsty” in ur­gent need of clean­ing.

She also pre­tended that it was th­ese same com­mit­tee mem­bers who were guilty of hav­ing re- fused to re­lease cer­tain stud­ies. They fired back at Boucher with an open let­ter point­ing out that she was the one who had the author­ity to re­lease stud­ies, not them.

Un­der the au­thor­i­tar­ian and in­com­pe­tent Boucher, the at­mos­phere at the OQLF is un­healthy, with her own civil ser­vants won­der­ing what she’ll do next.

Through­out this mess, one thing be­came clear: It’s now the OQLF pres­i­dent who con­trols the lan­guage min­is­ter, not the re­verse. St-Pierre has been side­lined by Boucher who seems to be con­nected di­rectly to the pre­mier’s of­fice. It is Boucher who ap­pears to have po­lit­i­cal con­trol of the lan­guage file, not the min­is­ter.

One prob­lem is that Boucher has no known com­pe­tence in lin­guis­tics or de­mo­graph­ics. The daugh­ter of for­mer Que­bec City mayor An­drée Boucher, she is, in fact, a lawyer and a long-time Lib­eral ap­pa­ratchik who has held a num­ber of com­fort­able high civil-ser­vice posts.

When Charest handed the OQLF over to her in 2005, she was the as­so­ci­ate deputy min­is­ter for re­gional de­vel­op­ment and mu­se­ums at the Min­istry of Cul­ture.

Still, as bad as her ten­ure has been, Boucher is but one more sign of how shock­ingly politi­cized the OQLF has be­come over the years – leav­ing Que­be­cers and MNAs ill-in­formed about the sta­tus of French and con­se­quently, about any ac­tion that needs to be taken.

In my March 7 col­umn, I re­peated what I’ve been say­ing for years: The OQLF must be made in­de­pen­dent of the gov­ern­ment and an­swer­able only to the Na­tional As­sem­bly. Its pres­i­dent, now named by the pre­mier, must also be cho­sen by the As­sem­bly for rea­sons of com­pe­tence, not po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion.

Boucher has demon­strated a lethal mix of par­ti­san­ship and in­com­pe­tence on the very mat­ter that con­sti­tutes the ba­sis of Que­bec’s iden­tity.

Nam­ing a new lan­guage min­is­ter wouldn’t be a lux­ury, ei­ther.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.