The Official Languages Act Must Continue to Protect Both Official Minorities in Canada
The Official Languages Act is the Canadian law that came into force on September 9, 1969, under the majority government of the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The OLA gives English and French equal status in the government of Canada. This makes them "official" languages, having preferred status in law over all other languages.
The minority government of the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau is presently in the process of reviewing the OLA with plans to amend the OLA after some 51 years of yeoman service delivered by the OLA.
Who are the major players involved in this linguistic Pandora’s box?
The Honourable Melanie Joly is the Minister of Official Languages as well as of Economic Development. She has previously served as the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages, and La Francophonie, as well as the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
The Honourable Steven Guilbeault is presently the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez is the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. He has previously served as the Minister of Canadian Heritage, as well as the Chief Government Whip.
The Honourable Bardash Chagger, M. P. for Waterloo, Ontario, is the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, since November 20, 2019, taking on some of the responsibilities formerly associated with the position of the Minister of Multiculturalism. She had previously served as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, as well as the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
Anthony Housefather, the M. P. for Mount Royal, is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, and a Member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. He had previously served as the Chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as well as Chairing its Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure.
Rumours abounded late in 2020 regarding the split in the Federal Liberal Party Caucus of M. P.’s over whether to agree to the demands from Québec to allow the Charter of the French Language (Law 101) to be applied to federally regulated businesses in the province of Québec. There was reportedly an extended tug of war between nationalists (led by Guilbeault and Rodriguez) versus federalists (led by Housefather). How in hell did two front bench ministers get trumped by a back bench parliamentary secretary? Apparently, because of the support of the Liberal MPs from outside Québec backing the federalists. So much for Caucus confidentiality. Eh!
And now returning to the Official Languages Act. I don’t always agree with the pronouncements on high emitted by the Montreal Gazette Editorial Board:
“Meanwhile, at the federal level, there are political pressures that threaten to erode the fundamental principle of official-language duality. English-speaking Quebecers overwhelmingly are committed to this province and country and our place in it. Still, we are still fighting for respect as a linguistic minority, and for the future of our institutions. So here’s a new year’s wish: that our government leaders take a balanced approach on linguistic matters, one based on the understanding that both francophones in Canada and anglophones in Quebec are minorities with rights and legitimate concerns.”
However in this instance, I surprisingly find myself backing their New Year’s message: 100 %. After Law 21 and Law 40, both passed through closure (le bâillon) by a majority CAQ government, Simon Jolin-Barrette, the Québec Minister of Justice, Minister Responsible for the French Language, Minister Responsible for Laicity and Parliamentary Reform, Minister Responsible for the Montérégie Region, and finally Government House Leader (I wonder when he finds time to scratch his…) needs no support at all from the federal government to strengthen the provisions of Law 101. Mr. Prime Minister, Canada has two official minorities. It is your responsibility as the Prime Minister of Canada to protect both official minorities from sea to sea to sea! The Official Languages Act certainly must continue to protect the French language minorities in the other nine provinces and three territories. But the OLA must also continue to safeguard the English language minority in the province of Québec. Tell your fellow Liberals that the English language minority in Québec is a true minority and not a displaced remnant of the majority in Canada and North America as many in your political party believe, especially those from Québec.
Vividly recalls to mind: the courage of Clifford Lincoln and his famous declaration in the National Assembly of Québec back in 1989 during the debate over the imposition of the notwithstanding clause allowing Law 178 to require French to be the dominant language on commercial signs: “Rights are rights are rights!” A man of high honour, Mr. Lincoln then proceeded to resign as MNA and Minister from the Cabinet of Premier Robert Bourassa.