Friday, August 6, 2010

Language Wars and New Brunswick

There is a crisis in the making in this province. It concerns language. And both sides are acting in a way guaranteed to make it worse. It's important when problems arise to deal with them by action. But action is not the same as reaction. Action means taking a sober look at the realities, at what must be done to ease the tensions, at what must be done to satisfy needs.

Reaction is something quite different. Reaction is attacking the other side who earlier reacted by attacking you, and who will next act by re-attacking you.

Reaction is what we're watching among both French and English. I have been through this before, in Quebec. In fact, I was more pominent in it than I cared to be. For a half dozen years, I was on the provincial executive of the Quebec English rights group, Alliance Quebec. Then I was vice-president for two years, then Chairman of the Board for two more. That was ten years of long hours of meetings every week, travelling the province, getting death threats on the phone, being warned by police to evacuate our building because of danger of mob violence...the whole schmeer.

That's the direction New Brunswick is heading. And it's heading that way because both English and French are reacting instead of acting.

It began with the English majority for two centuries either ignoring the Acadians or treating them like second class citizens if, indeed, they were regarded as citizens at all. At last, action began, and began well, under Robichaud and his successors. Then reaction stepped in. Remember mayor Jones? Nor was he the only one. I was surprised when I first moved here to see how deep was English resentment of Acadians. That was a reaction to their increased prominence in New Brunswick life.

Reaction has bred another reaction - Dieppe's desire for French on all signs of business. I've been there. Done that. You have no idea of the hatreds, fears, and legal and social complexities of going that route. Just discussing it noticeably worsened language relations.

And that reaction bred another reaction - an anglo organization that wants to plant its flag, especially on the anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, as the symbol of English domination.  Expect now a counter-reaction which will make things worse.

This is not only foolish. I strongly suspect that both English and French are being used as dupes in a bigger game. And both English and French are being dumb enough to play along with it.

In recent years, the Bloc Quebecois has been extending its influence to French speakers in other provinces. The demand for bilingual signs on private businesses, for example, was effectively used to stir up fears and hatreds in Quebec - to the benefit of the Bloc. That is not, so far as I know, the typical behaviour of Acadians. But I note that a major figure in starting this signs campaign is a local person who studied in Quebec.

I also noticed a recent letter to the editor in The Moncton T&T. It referred to the warning that Quebec would back up the Acadians in their struggle against the English. Would it now?  It might. Stir up enough hatred, and that could pay off in Bloc seats - and it could also be a bargaining chip in separation negotiations with Canada.

So here we have English and French fish swimming around and trying to get a worm - and neither side smart enough to notice it's on a hook.

This is not a time for reaction by either side. Dieppe is being suckered into a bylaw that is of almost no practical value, and which stirs up hatreds. The anglo group (whose name I forget and would prefer not to remember) has also been suckered. Sticking up invented flags does nothing useful, and simply stirs up more hatreds.

Grow up, both sides. This is not a time for reaction. This is a time for action.

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