Why Ot­tawa must be­come of­fi­cially bilin­gual

There’s no bet­ter way to mark Canada’s 150th birth­day, says John E. Trent

Ottawa Citizen - - ED­I­TO­RIAL -

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.

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