5 février 2013

Why Pauline Marois' English is a Non-Issue

This article is inspired by a few things:

1. Patrick Lagacé's typically schoolish article on the subject in today's LaPresse.
2. LaPresse's poll of the day.
3. Several conversations I have had since Marois' accession to the office of Premier. 
4. This photo:

Allow me to say this as plainly as possible: Pauline Marois has no obloigation, legal or moral, to speak English to anyone. Here are a few reasons why:

1. 95% of Quebeckers understand French.

2. Only 4.6 % of the population understands only English.

3. Quebec's sole official language is French.

4. Many leaders of top nations do not speak English. Former French prez Nicolas Sarkozy's English was notoriously atrocious, and look who he's banging. Also, current president François Hollande's English is dubious. Spain's PM doesn't speak English. The jury's still out on Angele Merkel, who one assumes speaks English to some degree, but we seldom actually hear her speak it. In any case, one truth remains universal: basically all leaders of non-Anglophone countries are significantly less elegant in English than in their national language. And Marois does speak English, though inelegantly so. Is that a crime? While today's Francophone youth get plenty of opportunities to learn and practise English on the Internet, watching the latest American series or going on government-funded immersion trips, Marois spent her twenties getting an education back when that was still relatively rare for Francophones (let alone Francophone women), raising children and scraping out a career in Quebec public service. 

5. Almost anyone I've heard criticize Marois' English is either (A) a unilingual Anglophone or (B) one of those bilingual Francophones that considers themselves freakishly intelligent for being able to converse in English (which is actually a much lesser feat in today's world, where it isn't uncommon for youngsters to pick up English while sitting on their asses playing X-box Live). 

6. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is leader of a country which claims to be bilingual, and his French is not much better than Marois' English. If you don't believe me, why don't you ask him about his fixed erection dates. And how about David Alward's French? He's the Premier of Canada's only bilingual province, New Brunswick. Mastery of both languages actually is a prerequisite for his job. Let's take a look at his French skills... Why is Quebec's premier held to a higher linguistic standard than the leaders of jurisdictions with actual pretentions to bilingualism? (Hint: It's because despite all the  PC bullshit, someone who speaks just French in this country is still seen as an ignoramus while someone who speaks just English is perfectly normal. French is as second-class in Canada today as it always was, unless of course it's accompanied by English.)

7. I think the sovereignty movement has been pretty clear about two things: French being the common and usual language of public communication in Quebec, and rejecting the institutional bilingualism pushed upon the provinces by the Federal government. It's not like she'd be a hypocrite if she refused to give any interviews in English (which she doesn't).*

So why all the fuss? Because there really isn't anything much more substantial to complain about. All the pressing problems which Quebec faces are the very same ones it faced before the PQ took power a few months ago. The criticism of the so-called broken campaign promises are weak at best, since it's pretty hard for Marois' critics to lambast her in good faith for not following through on policies they didn't support in the first place. And even those who did support them know that her government doesn't have a mandate to do whatever it wants, a reality the opposition reminds her of almost daily, especially in the area of sovereignist governance. 

This is the same game of petty politics we all love to hate, whereby one politician must attempt, even pathetically so, to score points wherever possible at the expense of his opponent. But if the best Marois' opponents can come up with is that she doesn't speak English very fluently, what does that say about their priorities? We had a perfectly bilingual Premier for 9 years in Jean Charest, and look where we are now.

I don't think anyone questions that it would be useful for the Premier to master the English language. But that doesn't make it a pre-requisite for the job. And let's face it. Her English is not actually that bad. Not anymore. She's actually giving more effort than I would if I were her.

I invite the CAQ (whose own leader, incidentally, has rather questionable English) and the PLQ (who have no leader at all), as well as QS to concentrate on the real issues. There are plenty of them.

* This interview was recorded 4 years ago. Her English here is not perfect, but perfectly understandable. It has since got even better. Not that it makes a difference to me.

1 commentaire:

Thorny Rose a dit...

Moi j'apprécie entendre des discours comme celui du premier ministre du nouveau brunswick avec l'accent anglais tellement épais et affreux qu'on se croit en train de regarder un accident d'automobile en slow-motion. Je trouve que c'est courageux de faire ces efforts-là dans une video de youtube que personne n'a vu sauf nous. Quand même. En tant qu'anglophone, je me demande si j'ai parlé comme ça il était une fois. C'est certain que je ne suis plus capable à le faire car ça me fait trop rire