Monday, September 13, 2010

Language War in New Brunswick?

The following item is one I wrote for a bilingual Montreal paper called Le Metropolitain. It appeared today (Monday, Friday 13).

There is a flag flying at house down the street from my home in Moncton, New Brunswick. At first, I took its red, diagonal cross on a white background as the old flag of St. Patrick. But a closer look showed a red and white maple leaf at the centre; and I don't think St. Pat was ever big on maple leaves No. This was the official flag of anglophone New Brunswick.

And I think New Brunswickers, both francophone and anglophone, are being conned into a language war that can only hurt all of them.

In 1969, Canada adopted the official languages act, requiring equality of French and English for purposes of federal government. New Brunswick adopted similar provincial legislation shortly after, the only province to do so. I was impressed with the results when I moved here.

The Acadians (French) are a delightful and friendly people. So are the anglos. I can use either language pretty freely without being made to feel I am imposing on anyone, or anyone imposing on me. Any visitor to the two hospitals (one Acadian and one English) might understandably be puzzled about which was which. It seemed to be a model for all of Canada.

Acadians have reason to dislike the English majority (about two thirds.) For over two hundred years, Acadians were either ignored or discriminated against by the English. But things have been changing rapidly for a good fifty years. Or so I thought.

Then I began to find a resentment among some anglos. They particularly resented the Acadian presence in the civil service. (Well, of course Aadians are rising in the civil service. They are among the most bilingual people in all of Canada.) The angry anglos seemed so few as not to be a factor.

Then, a man in suburban Dieppe (80% francophone) organized a petition to demand a bylaw requiring bilingual commercial signs in Dieppe. (Of course, it requires French on top.) He is now pressing for a similar bylaw in Moncton, majority anglo.

All that happened just before I saw the anglo flag, the flag of a group that demands its flag be flown at public buildings. Subsequently, a noisy public at a meeting of Moncton city council required police intervention. See the pattern?

Provoke. Provocation creates provocation in return which creates.... That's how it happened in Quebec.

The difference is that no-one can win such a war in New Brunswick; neither side has enough numbers. All that can happen is to create hatreds and fears and damage to the province. Both Acadians and anglos actually need each other.

What binds the Acadians together is a mixture of shared values in history, music, literature, social life...

It's often called a culture, though that is an oversimplification. It's a part of a culture. When people live together, their culture, most of it, is a shared culture. People who think they are a hundred percent Acadian culture don't understand the meaning of culture.

The reality is that all people, from Moncton to Beijing have more culture in common than that part they call their own. To try to make everyone conform to some narrow definition of culture can only fragment the province. It also distracts attention from some very serious problems that have nothing to do with culture.

Acadians have a flag. It represents a part of their culture. What hinders anglo New Brunswickers is they have no sense of any anglo New Brunswick culture at all. And a borrowed flag doesn't make a culture. All they have is an anger that can only be destructive – for themselves.

So why are both groups launching a war that neither can win?

I'm not sure. But did I mention that Martin Leblanc Rioux, the man who started the petition and is now demanding a bylaw for Moncton, has been studying law in Quebec? (At McGill). Did I mention that there is now a Bloc Quebecois student club at Universite d”Ottawa?

Is there anything that some people in Quebec could gain from a language war in New Brunswick or Ontario? Are New Brunswickers, French and English, being reeled in like fish on a hook?

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