Language czars can’t handle the job
The future of the French language in Quebec rests in very shaky hands
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.