Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 3: Well done, Times and Transcript

On p. D9 is a story that is actually worth reading.  "Energy industry fought Ottawa over greenhouse gas regulations." The gist of the story is that  the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers got more than the usual consultation with the the federal government  while the latter was preparing the regulations - and a strong suggestion that government frequently caved in to industry demands.

In fact, the industry runs a very wide and sophisticated campaign to influence voters and governments.
It has the Heartland Roundation in the US, and the International Climate Science Coalition in Canada, for example. This has been going for a long time. It was back in the 70s that I was approached  (as an academic and journalist) to take part in a campaign to help Canadians understand that the petroleum industry, despite its reputation, was really a sweetheart. (We never got as far as discussing a price.)

Now, a question for the TandT. Is it possible that the industry in New Brunswick has excessive influence over the provincial government? And that the government frequently caves in? Now, that would be a story worth labelling "Special Report".

Then there's the front page story that Council is going to try Main St. parking for cars.  (We'll pass lightly over the obvious idiocy of this.) My question on this is for an alert editor or, failing that, a live one.

Council was choosing between two absolutely contradictory policies. One was to allow parking on Main St. The other was to ban cars from parking on Main or even to travel along it in summer. Okay, one must presume that the parking option was chosen because it fits into the Master Plan for the future of Moncton.

Now, precisely how does it fit into that Master Plan? It must be a brilliant and unusual plan, because almost all other cities in the world are going in the opposite direction. All eyes, indeed, will be on Moncton. So could we have a "Special Report" on this, too?

Now - to continue on uesterday's topic - the language of commercial signs in Dieppe.

 To pass a law demanding French on commercial signs will be perceived as an attack on English. Yes, I know it isn't an attack on English. I know it's reasonable to expect biligual commercial signs as a matter of courtesy. But reality doesn't matter. Perceptions do matter. And the perception of some English is that this will be an attack.

So we have Acadians being injected with a fear that their language is under threat - and anglos with a fear that their's is. Result - a match to the tinder that is already in place. And a lanugage war that New Brunswick cannot afford. And that neither side can win.

A francophone victory, of sorts, was possible in Quebec because the anglos were hopelessly outnumbered, and it was easy just to leave. Besides, the rest of Canada obviously couldn't care less about the anglos of Quebec. It is not likely that any of this would hold true in New Brunswick.

Nor will such a law make Acadians feel more secure. Quite the contrary. Thirty years after Bill 101, after the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of anglos, after thousands of visits by language police, after getting rid of English signs, after cleaning anglos out of the civil service, after losing all of its national head offices, French Quebec still lives in fear that its language is threatened. And the working class French, those who supposedly suffered because of the English, are no better off.

A language of commercial signs law will be of no value to anybody. What it will do is lead to silliness, cruelty, and anger.

Silliness? Quebec employs uncounted numbers of language police to inspect not only commercial signs, but any English at all in any office. Recently, they visited a company which had English employees, all of whom normally spoke French at work. All correspondence was in French. All signs, even on washrooms, were in French.

The language police lodged a complaint. During an inspection, they had looked even through the lunch room fridge, took pictures, compiled a report, and the company was notified of its crime.

One of the employees was named Ben. On that day, he had brought in a piece of cake for his lunch. He put it in the fridge with a note on it. It said "Ben's cake".

And it can and does take uglier turns.

A French family took their dying mother to an English hospital (which, of course, provided her with medical care in French.) But at one point the mother overheard two nurses speaking to each other in English. The enraged family took the hospital to court. Their mother had suffered the indignity of dying in English. And they won.

As it happens, I later took my dying mother to a French hospital.I noticed the nurses spoke to her only in French, though they must have realized she could not understand them. (She knew some French, but was hopelessly confused by the stroke she had suffered.) So I explained to them, in French, what the situation was. (I knew most of the nurses were bilingual.)

They simply would not do it. The law in Quebec was that French was the only official language.

In the case of Dieppe, it is annoying that business has not shown the courtesy (and good business sense) to post bilingual signs. But using the law to civilize business will do more damage than good to New Brunswick.

Meanwhile, we should all stop using history to justify anger. Yes, Acadians were badly treated historically in New Brunswick. They also did a good deal of dirty work, themselves - including the infamous Deerfield Raid. My French ancestors in Quebec treated the British colonists to the south in much the same way. In doing research I came across a few Decaries who raided British settlements, murdered, raped, took slaves, torched houses.... (I recognized the family resemblance.)

Cruel behaviour has nothing to do with language. I would have hated to be of African descent through most of the history of any part of Canada, including both French and Acadian New Brunswick, until recent years.

It's one thing to study and remember your history, all of it. It's quite a another to study only your grievances, and call that your heritage.

Is this language of signs issue being manipulated? Quite possibly. If I were a Quebec nationalist, I would be very happy to stir up a language war in New Brunswick, looking forward to the day when a Quebec nation would include, say, half of New Brunswick. Always beware of issues that exploit your emotions.

New Brunswick is now the most bilingual province in Canada.There's more to be done. But passing laws isn't the way to make progress. And the hatreds and emotions stirred up by laws take our attention away from dealing with profoundly serious issues among both French and English - problems of illiteracy, fear of open discussion, political passivity, lack of cultural life, rural isolation....  New Brunswick is a province wide open to exploitation and abuse. Passing a law on signs won't change any of that.

My sense of the province is that both anglos and Acadians are very decent people with, as always, the usual allotment of bigots and dummies on each side. After, admittedly, a late start and after an effort that largely came from the Acadians, it is now far the best example of bilingualism in Canada.

There's certainly more to do. But there's also more to do in a lot of other areas, too. Fighting over a law on signs means that we will get nothing done on language, nothing on all the other needs, and will probably cause us to slip backwards.

Now, wouldn't it be nice if The Times and Transcript were do some research on those companies resisting bilingual signs? To publish a list of them? and to do a story on what there reasons are? And maybe then to write an (intelligent) editorial?

1 comment:

  1. I try not to be a cynic. It's certainly not a healthy perspective. Instead, I try to be a healthy realist.

    But, inciting, and causing provocation or at least, remaining silent, and allowing it to happen, is all too often the M.O. of many in power who wish the public to remain distracted, as well as many political officials.

    It will certainly be interesting to know if those in power here in NB, come out in the M.T&T and do a worthwhile editorial, or least report against the dangers of monolingual signage.

    My rather large family left Quebec because of Bill 101, and if NB doesn't want to lose more of its already waning population, they'd be wise to stem this nonsense.