Sacre bleu: New Habs coach unilingual

The year is ending with a bit of linguistic controversy in Montréal. The nomination of a unilingual coach at the helm of the Canadiens two weeks ago didn't go unnoticed and this grunge is being carried over in the new year. A demonstration [Google translation] is under preparation for January 7th at the Bell Centre.

A recent poll [Google translation] suggests that as much as 80% of the population disagrees with the nomination of a unilingual coach. "What's the fuss?" you wonder... there are only a few French-speaking players in the team and talks in the dressing room are by far predominantly in English. Is this yet another example of Québec's intolerance towards English? Well... the players aren't the only ones the coach has to talk to and... you see... the Québécois like to understand what they're being told.

The relationship between the Habs and their fans is deep and goes a long way back. Founded in 1909, "Le Club de Hockey Canadien" was to be the team of the Francophone community in Montréal, composed of Francophone players. Why use the word "Canadien" then? Simply because that's how the French-speaking population called itself in those days. They were neither French nor British North Americans, like their English-speaking counterparts who had yet to acknowledge their Canadianity. For the undereducated that he was, up until the 60s, the average French Canadian didn't have much of a model to relate to other than hockey players. And what models!... six championship cups in the 50s, four in the 60s, six in the 70s... 24 in total.

Today, the team counts very few French speaking players and its fan base is much more diversified then it originally was. But the team's past success left deep marks in the population's psyche. The Montréal Canadiens continue to take an immense share of media coverage in the province. In 2010, Influence Communication reported that sports were at the top of all priorities in Québec media and that 85% of sports news is about les Canadiens. Other NHL teams and other sports, be they professional or amateur, accounted for less than 10%. Every day, 35% of what was written on the NHL in media around the world came from Québec. The rest of the country, then home of five NHL teams, produced 50% of NHL coverage. The USA, with 24 teams, produced 15%. For comparison, sports news in Québec accounted for 16 times the weight of national news.

Randy Cunneyworth is in the spotlight. The team isn't doing well. The fans want to know why and they want to hear it from the horse's mouth... in the language of the majority.

Writer's note (from the Urban Dictionary): The word "Sacre Bleu" is a stereotypical French curse that is actually never used by real French people. Same as the mustache and the beret - something only non-French people think is typical of the French.


Sovereignty on its death bed in Québec

The Bloc Québécois was nearly obliterated in the last federal elections. Support for the Parti Québécois keeps going down. Support for Québec independence has slipped as low as 33%, below the 40% long held as a floor. "The sovereignty movement is gravely ill and in the most unexpected places" states The Globe and Mail in a report published Saturday.

Building a rainbow coalition bringing together left-wing and right-wing proponents who shared a common interest for sovereignty was a good idea in the 70s. But 35 years of efforts by the Parti Québécois, internal quarrels and two referendums haven't yielded the expected result. While English-language media are celebrating the end of the sovereignty movement, the Québécois are now acknowledging that sovereignty can't be achieved through a structured movement.

Twice, the Québécois have shied away from their historic challenge, favoring Canada. In the mind of the average Canadian, these two missed opportunities took place in 1980 and 1995. I'm referring to the opportunities that took place in 1990 and 2005, in the aftermath of the Meech Lake Accord failure and the AdScam. Support for sovereignty then neared 70% the first time and broke through the 50% barrier the second time. On both occasions, a federalist party was at the helm.

The failed referendums were the result of the Parti Québécois' doing. The real missed opportunities were the result of Ottawa's doing. Had there been a provincial government sympathetic to sovereignty at the time, Québec would now be a country. In short, sovereignty can't be achieved on its own. It can only be achieved as a response to Ottawa's ill-advised initiatives. You think this is pathetic? I agree. The Québécois have expressed their support for Canada twice, in 1980 and 1995. But this support is not unconditional and Ottawa's doing nothing about it.

Now, everything is set for a repeat of the missed opportunities of 1990 and 2005. The average Canadian voter believes that the sovereignty movement is dying, seeing no sense in addressing the constitutional status quo. And a federal government in which the Québécois don't recognize themselves is promoting unpopular initiatives, alienating them further. This feeling can be observed among both French and English-speaking Québécois.

With the recent installment of a probe into corruption and collusion in the construction industry, the only provincial party capable of defending the merits of the federation is potentially facing the fate of its federal counterpart following the Adscam. This could open the way for a new, but nationalist, government [Google translation]. Should Ottawa continue on its way, a third opportunity may arise. Would the party at the helm take advantage of it?


French in the workplace

Many flagship organizations in Montréal have been reported as hiring English-speaking unilingual managers and not leaving enough room for French. Yeah... I know... old news... still, discussions around these reports are missing the point.

Most of these discussions argued that English is the language of business and the way of globalization; there's no doubt about it. Some also suggested that the Québécois shouldn't shy away from learning a second language. A recent poll suggests that the majority agrees, 62% for English-speaking Québécois and 56% for French speakers.

My own personal experience with bilingualism at work is a positive one. Everyone chips in using the language they feel most comfortable with. A French-speaker didn't get some of the English words that were spoken?... someone translates. An English-speaker didn't get some of the French words that were spoken?... somebody else translates. No muss, no fuss, all is fine and everybody learns. However, things don't always work as easily.

I was chatting with an English-speaking colleague recently who didn't understand this concern about not having enough French in the workplace. She observed that the majority of discussions were held in French. She was right. I told her that the issue wasn't being conveyed properly. "It's not about not having enough room for French", I told her. "It's about shutting out French-speaking unilinguals." She looked at me puzzled.

I emphasized that, although I did over 90% of my work in French, I could as easily do 100% of it in English. She agreed. When I asked her if it were possible for me to do 100% of it in French, she wouldn't answer. Had we been talking about a job working with the public or involving international trade, reasonable knowledge of English would be a given. But this is an ordinary administrative job involving other Québécois in Montréal.

Recent poll results published by La Presse [Google translation] conclude that the Québécois are divided regarding the obligation of speaking French in the workplace. The poll is asking the wrong question.

Many argue that a qualified worker mustn't be discriminated if he doesn't speak the language of the majority. So be it... now... does it make it OK to discriminate someone who only speaks the language of the majority?


I'm ashamed to be Canadian

Letter to Mr. Christian Paradis,

Since you're the best known figure of the Conservative government in Québec, please allow me to write you these lines.

I'm ashamed to be Canadian, I'm ashamed to have yours as my government, one that has not taken a single decision to inspire me in saying: "yes, I'm Canadian and proud to be a citizen of this country, a model for the world."

I'm sad to see that our national vision is taking the paths of the past and withdrawal rather than moving forward with openness to the world: the environment, the return of the Queen's image, militarism, C-10, unilingual ministers, unilingual judges, etc.

I'm afraid of your ways that ignore transparency (the silence of Tony Clement and the hidden costs of the G20 summit), democracy (prorogation of Parliament, Dimitri Soudas mocking the bailiff at Parliament...), the choice of Canadians (campaign against the CBC along with a private broadcaster, abandoning our position as a model of secular peace in the world, blind alignment with Israel...), and so on...

I fear your hypocrisy (electoral maneuvers and abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on December 23rd), your bigotry (too many examples to cite), your four-year term...

I fear you like one fears coldness, malice, hypocrisy, dishonesty and stupidity.

I'm ashamed to be Canadian.

Translated from a letter by Denis Michaud, published in Le Devoir [in French], November 30, 2011.