Why Ottawa must become officially bilingual
There’s no better way to mark Canada’s 150th birthday, says John E. Trent
I’m sorry Ottawa. I really am sorry, I cannot get excited about participating in your hypocritical celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.
And I am also sorry about raining on your parade. I know a lot of people are putting a lot of effort into making the 150th celebration a real success.
My only excuse is that Mayor Jim Watson made me do it. He is the one who refuses to recognize the equality of both official languages of Canada’s capital. That is, he refuses to ask Ontario to change the City of Ottawa Act to make French and English officially equal. He is responsible for me thinking it is hypocritical for Ottawa to pretend to be Canada’s capital city when he willingly ignores one-half of Canada’s French-English equation.
A bilingual country merits a bilingual capital. More than 85 per cent of Canadians agree.
Perhaps I should not blame Watson alone. After all, Ontario’s government has being sitting on its hands for years saying it is waiting for Ottawa to invite it to act in its own area of jurisdiction. Then there is the federal government. It was asked to confirm to Ottawa that it would cover any possible additional costs of official bilingualism in its capital city and all Justin Trudeau could do was to make jokes about it. And this is the son of the man who made Canada officially bilingual.
An officially bilingual capital would be a beacon to all Canadians, both English and French. It would be a signal to the world about Canada’s identity. And it would be a little step forward for Canadian federalism by demonstrating to Quebecers and all Canadians that our federal regime can always move ahead.
Being a capital with two languages would also help to make Ottawa a global capital and a magnet for world business, tourism and conferences. It would be a moneymaker for Ottawa. Studies have shown that bilingualism is the incubator for acceptance of multiculturalism and diversity. These values mark Canada’s identity. But they also say to the world that the welcome mat is out. Come and visit us; do business with us.
Of course, it will not happen automatically. We will have to develop a culture of bilingualism. We will have to use the two languages. Our businesses and restaurants and institutions and the city itself will have to make greater efforts to use both English and French. Luckily, more than 70 per cent of students in Ottawa’s Englishlanguage school boards have taken the bull by the horns and are studying in French. They are ready. That is why making Ottawa officially bilingual is no big deal. The people are already there. Costs will not be on the backs of Ottawa’s citizens. There will be more jobs for both English and French. The only change will be that the city’s bilingualism policy will be protected from backsliding by being ensconced in Ontario legislation.
All that is required is that Ottawa city councillors be as courageous and forwardlooking as their constituents and pass a resolution inviting Ontario to change our municipal legislation to confirm Ottawa’s bilingual status. Then sit back and let our capital city reap the benefits. If you agree, sign the petition at www.bilingualcapital.ca John Trent is a member of Dialogue Canada and a Fellow of the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa.
Being a capital with two languages would also help to make Ottawa a global capital and a magnet for world business, tourism and conferences. It would be a money-maker for Ottawa.