Little Fish in a Giant pond

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Linguistic discrimination in Ontario?

Before I really dive into this post, I want to get one thing straight. I am an Anglophone. The first language I ever learned to speak was English, and neither one of my parents speak French, nor do either of them have the slightest trace of French-Canadian origins that we are aware of. Despite this fact, my siblings and I were all able to slip through the cracks and receive our educations in Ontario's French language schools (not to be mistaken for French immersion). It is for this reason that to this day I am fluent in French, and if I may be so bold, I dare say that I speak it more or less as well as I speak English.

Now that I've made this clear, a recent event has given me cause to reflect on the situation of Francophones living outside of Québec. I recently decided to apply for a number of articling student positions with the Ontario government. While I was aware that such positions are extremely difficult to obtain, I decided to give it a shot anyways since I really didn't have anything to lose, and because the fact that I am bilingual might just make me more attractive to them. In order to emphasize my bilingualism, I decided to send off my cover letters and CVs in French.

Slowly, various government offices began to acknowledge receipt of my applications either by mail or email, and I noticed that all of the correspondence I received was in English! To be perfectly honest, I hadn't given this a moment's thought (or even noticed for that matter!) until I received a response from the office of the ministry of community safety and correctional services by mail. In this letter, the person who received my application (who shall remain anonymous) very politely thanked me for my interest in the position and told me that they would soon be making a choice on who they wished to invite for interviews. Then, much to my surprise, I was asked to please send a copy of my application in English!

Now in my case, there was absolutely no harm done. I speak English, and already had copies of my cover letter and CV templates in English stored on my hard drive. So complying with this request was little more than a simple matter of loading up the files, making a few quick changes, and emailing the files to the address of the person who sent me the letter. I also promised to mail an English copy at the next opportunity. I do not consider myself to have been the victim of any form of injustice in this matter.

Still, I couldn't help but be troubled by all this just a little. According to the 2001 census, Ontario has a total population of 11,285,550 of whom 485,630 identified French as their mother tongue, and another 37,135 selected English and French. With the obvious exception of Québec, no other province has as many Francophones (though New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province, has a larger percentage of Francophones than Ontario). This makes me wonder what would have happened if someone else had sent their application in French, someone who was not as strong in English as I am.

Despite what some people may think, it is perfectly possible to live one's life in Ontario without ever mastering English. I have had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of Franco-Ontarians in my day, and while there can be no doubt that a good number of them speak English every bit as well as I do, I have also met a lot of them who struggle with the language. A lot of Franco-Ontarians grew up in places like Hearst, Hawkesbury, and Lafontaine, where Francophones are actually the majority of the community. Should one of these people have had to submit an English copy of their application? I don't think so. In my opinion, a Canadian should have the right to communicate with his or her government (yes even the provincial ones) in the official Canadian language of their choice.

Now I am willing to accept that reasonable limits must be set. After all, even the Charter of Rights has a reasonable limits clause. So one could argue that Ontario's overwhelmingly larger English-speaking population is justification for French language services not being provided in that province, but I for one, am not convinced. Ontario (to its much deserved credit) has already made great strides in accommodating its Francophone population. Every government form and web page for the Ontario government that I have seen has either been bilingual or has had an English equivalent and whenever I have called a government number there is always a French option. For the most part, the Ontario government is all but officially bilingual. Furthermore, as I already mentioned, Ontario does have the largest Francophone population outside of Quebec, and according to the 2001 census, French is also the largest minority language in the province and has at least twice as many people as any other language group (unless you count Chinese as one language, but even then the Francophone population is still larger). When these numbers are coupled with the fact that French is an official language of Canada, it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable for a Franco-Ontarian to expect services from the government of Ontario in French.

Now it is also worth noting that the office of the ministry of community safety and correctional services, unlike almost all of the other positions I applied for, is not located in the province's capital city of Toronto. It is in fact located in the small town of Orillia, in the same building that serves as the Headquarters for the Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.). Should this serve as justification for them not being able to read my application in French? Once again, I don't think so. While Orillia itself is a VERY Anglophone community (I lived just outside of the town for about 8 years), it is just a stone's throw away from Penetanguishene, Midland, and of course, Lafontaine. All of which have very substantial French-speaking populations.

This begs the question, should all of the people responsible for hiring articling students in this particular branch of the government be made to learn to speak French? The answer of course, is no. However, it does not seem at all unreasonable to me that at least one member of the hiring committee could be a bilingual person. If such personnel are unavailable, I don't think it would be hard or unreasonable to have it translated. Now once again, in my case this is very unnecessary, since sending the application for me was almost no effort at all. My concern is for any Franco-Ontarian, who just wants a job with his or her government.

Now I realize that the person who sent me that letter was not some anti-French lunatic bent on pushing Franco-Ontarians into assimilation. It seems far more likely that they just did not have the resources available to understand the French documents in my application package, and they wanted to be able to understand enough about me to evaluate my ability to fit in with their organization. I can respect that. But I also think that the Ontario government should set aside the necessary resources for potential government employers to objectively evaluate Francophone applicants.

I also can’t help but wonder if I would have received the same request if my name were not Brian Fisher. Would my friends Léo Bourdon or Marc-André Mongeon have received the same request? Yet again, I am still not complaining, as having an Anglo/Irish name does tend to make one think that the person whose name it is will probably speak English. And in my case, it was perfectly true. Though I know my friend Patrick Kilfoil, a Francophone, would probably take issue with this.

By the way, for those among my Francophone friends who are wondering why I am making this particular posting in English, it is because I am essentially trying to make the case for a bilingual Ontario, and to do so in French would essentially amount to preaching to the choir.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

R.I.P. Kelowna Accord November 2005 - June 2007

Well, it's very nearly official. In a last minute bargain, the Liberal and Conservative members of the Senate have struck a deal that will have the Liberals allow the Budget Implementation Bill to get past the Senate in exchange for which, the government will allow all bills currently up for third reading to be voted upon. This means that several important bills, such as C-288, an act that will order the Conservative government to meet the standards set out by the Kyoto Accord (Click for the Full Story). Unfortunately, Bill C-292 an act ordering the Conservative government to respect the Kelowna Accord, has passed second reading in the Senate, but has not yet cleared the committee stage. As the vote is scheduled for tomorrow, it seems unlikely to me that there is any chance of having the bill passed in time.
I suppose that even if this bill does not die on the Agenda, it does not really mean much for Canada's native peoples. Prime Minister Harper has already indicated that he doesn't intend to abide by it even if it is passed, though I suppose it would have allowed for certain groups to sue (which would no doubt hae taken forever, and only led to further frustration). So I suppose that the only chance of seeing Kelowna implemented is to hope for a Liberal governement.
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice showed his government's usual respect for our native peoples, by not showing up for the first national aboriginal women's summit, which was held in Cornerbrook Newfoundland (Click for the Full Story). Evidently the Kelowna accord was a hot topic at this gathering and the Minister decided to show his true colours and run away.
Oh well, it should be interesting to see what the consequences are for C-288 getting through!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A new native land claims dispute resolution mechanism?

At the risk of speaking too soon, it appears that the Harper government may actually be doing right by Canada's native peoples for once. The Conservative government has recently announced that it plans to introduce legislation that would create a tribunal capable of making binding rulings on land claims. I'd like to see what the legislation looks like before I formulate an opinion on it but since the bill is supposedly going to be drafted in cooperation with the Assembly of First Nations I am feeling carefully optimistic.

Having said this, let us not forget that this is the same government that all but spat in the face of every province and native band in the country by abandoning the Kelowna accord.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Senate Reform

Well the battle lines have long since been drawn and both sides are ready for a fight! According to the Canadian Press, the Conservative government is accusing the Liberal Senate majority of provoking a constitutional crisis by shelving the act that would impose a term limit of eight years on Canadian senators until the Supreme Court has had the chance to decide whether or not the bill is constitutional.

True to form, the Tories are attacking "the unelected Liberal senate" and accusing senators of trying to preserve their privileges.

While Government House leader, Peter Van Loan is right to point out that the Senate has no authority to compel the government to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court, but of course he is forgetting that the Senate has the absolute power to veto any bill, even ones that have already been passed by the elected House of Commons (though unless I am mistaken, this particular bill originated in the Senate). And of course, like any other bill before parliament it can be delayed indeffinately. So what is so wrong an elected body setting aside a piece of legislation until it has been examined by the Supreme Court? Especially with a bill that is as constitutionally sensitive as this one.

And if these dreadful Liberal Senators are only concerned about losing their privileges, then why are the Conservative Senators not opposing it? Almost all of them were appointed under the PC government of old, and stand to lose just as much. They are not at all beholden unto the PM. Are we really to believe that Conservative Senators are any more moral than Liberal Senators? Does morality really run solely along political lines? And finally is it really so difficult to believe that the Liberal Senators may actually have legitimate concerns that a rapid, "piece-meal" reform of the Senate may be bad for Canadian democracy? I don't think so. And quite frankly, I find Mr. Van Loan's suggestion to be rather intellectually insulting.

As the above article states, 4 provinces have already voiced strong concerns about the way the Prime Minister is going about reforming the senate. Two of those provinces, happen to be the two most populous provinces in the country. Being the great champion of democracy that he claims to be, does the Prime Minister not realize that under the current method of selecting senators, a Prime Minister with two consecutive majority terms (approximately eight years) could actually name the entire senate?! Of course the idea behind the PM's actions is that it would force other parties to support an elected senate, so that they too could have representation there. Crafty, yes, but ultimately this is just another way of getting around having to discuss the matter with the provinces.

Then of course, there is Bill C-43, which aims to allow for an elected senate. What the Prime Minister seems to fail to realize is that there is a reason why the 1982 Constitution Act does not allow for the method of selection of senators to be altered without passing a rigid constitutional amendment formula. One of the purposes of the senate is to ensure a regional balance, and the provinces have good reason to fear that if senators were elected, the newly “legitimized” senators could diminish provincial powers.

Now an elected senate is not necessarily a bad idea, if it were done properly I'm sure there's a chance it could work. But as difficult as it will be, this cannot be done without consultation from the provinces nor can it be done without the approval of the appropriate amount of legislatures. And it is here where we Liberals are weak. The problem is not that we support an unelected senate; the problem is that we have no coherent alternative! Some of us favour an elected senate, others one that remains appointed, but by the provincial premiers, etc. Now this is unlikely to change with time, but the least we need to do is pick a position as a party, and move forward with a more intelligent alternative to what the Conservatives are offering, if we are really going to stick it to the Conservatives on this issue. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but it has to be done.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Thanks to the Sens

I don't think I've ever kept the fact that I am a tried and true, die-hard leaf fan a secret. Always have been, always will be. But as much as this is so, I found it hard not to cheer for the Sens in their quest for the cup this year. I guess it all started in the first round, when they made me eat my words (not to mention lose my hair!). They managed to beat a team, that in my opinion was better than them, and that if nothing else is deserving of respect. The fact that they got past Jersey was no surprise. The Devils were lucky to have gotten past Tampa Bay. They really won my respect when they blew past the President's Cup winning Buffalo Sabres in a mere five games.

While it is true that a few years of winning teams have made Sens fans pretty arrogant over the last few years, at least they would have appreciated a Stanley Cup. Yeah the Anaheim fans are cheering pretty loudly right now, but somehow I doubt that Lord Stanley's prize will truly be appreciated there. And true, hockey has been in California for decades now, and is relatively secure there, but I am certain that this cup will not be appreciated nearly as much as it would have been appreciated in Ottawa.

The heartache is compounded by the fact that the last three cups have been won by American teams from warm climates against Canadian teams.

I suppose an Anaheim victory is not quite as disgusting as it would have been if it had occured while they were The Mighty Ducks, owned by Disney, and I guess the Ducks also have more Canadian players, but Canada needs a cup.

Hopefully my boys in blue will be answering the call, but they have a lot of work to do in the meantime, right now I'd settle for making the playoffs.

But if nothing else the Sens were fun to watch, even as they lost in the finals. To them I say "thanks for a good season guys, you tried your best and in the end it just wasn't enough, but well done anyways".

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Episode II: Attack of the ads

As I pulled out of the Tim Horton's parking lot this morning, after making one of my multiple daily "Timmy's runs", what should come over the radio but one of the latest negative conservative adds against Leader of the Official Opposition, Stéphane Dion. This scathing attack features a very grim voiced narrator, who berates Dion for not being able to get liberal senators to vote in favour of eight year term limits for senators. At least this time, the tory adds are somewhat rooted in the truth, unlike the last round of ads that simply stated that the return of the liberal government under Dion would mean a return for corruption, and that Dion was not a leader. They even went so far as to attack Ralph Goodale, who had just been cleared of any wrongdoing.

These new ads at least had the general facts right, though they were badly twisted and may come back to bite the tories anyways. Now I can't speak for the liberal leader, but it seems to me that in an unelected senate, eight year term limits are a VERY bad idea! Simply put, a prime minister who is in office for eight years or more (as is often the case) could actually appoint the entire senate! Now I may be mistaken, but I believe that Stéphane Dion has merely suggested that Senators terms be limited to 12 years, so as to ensure at least a little bi-partisanism in the senate.

Now I know that Prime Minister Harper is an advocate of having an elected senate and has even appointed the very first elected senator since the Mulroney days however, the issue of senate reform is too important to be decided upon unilaterally by the Prime Minister. Many of the provinces fear that an elected senate would lead to their own powers being dilluted. Then of course there are equally credible fears that the senate could cease to be a place where minorities can voice their concerns. All of this is not to say that the senate cannot function if comprised solely of elected members but the constitutional amendment formula is in place for a reason. At any rate senate reform is an extremely complicated issue and I am digressing from the issue at hand.

The Young Liberals came out with some ads of their own recently. The ads are a parody of the "Mac vs. PC" ads we all see so regularly on television. While they are more cute and comical than anything else, there is deffinately a negative undertone. The ads highlight the conservative government's lousy record on the environment, their branding issues and also accuse the Conservatives of adopting liberal policies in order to be more appealing. Once again they are rooted in the truth (and in my opinion much more firmly than the conservative ads!), but a negative ad is a negative ad.

As I've said before, I don't see anything wrong per se with pointing out flaws in a political opponents belief system or policies but the problem lies with the fact that in the end both parites will get negative and both will wind up looking bad, which entirely discredits the system as a whole. So maybe it's better just to focus on the positive aspects of one's own platform rather than running down the other guy's. On the other hand, perhaps it's ok to use negative ads so long as they don't distort the truth, don't attack any individual and are done with some taste. Any thoughts?