2 March 2010

The rumors of our extinction have been greatly exaggerated

This is a public announcement to everyone who have seen the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver: Canada is still inhabited by French speakers.

Despite all the criticism the Vancouver Organizing Committee received after the opening ceremonies, little changed in the closing one.  Yes, the VANOC’s CEO made an effort to speak in French but that’s about the only change you could see.  That and the fact that Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium added a live translator on French TV so that the less “fortunate” can understand the ceremonies in their own country.

Would have it been too much to ask for one of the monologues to have been in French? After all, I am sure there are Francophones outside Québec ready to do such a creed for Canada.  They probably just didn’t try to find one but I personally believe finding one could also have been a hard job, considering that doing such a creed, even if it’s a caricature, could mean professional suicide for a Québec comedian in Québec’s French market (where such creeds on any side isn’t popular these days).

In short, we still exist.  What you have witnessed is a sad image for a country with 2 official languages.  It is reminiscent of old English-French frictions which we all would like to believe were long gone.  As it has been pointed out on this blog (a post worth reading) and in the professional press (in French!), denying French Canadians such visibility has done more for the sovereignty movement of Québec than the current leaders of the movement themselves. And that’s quite a job, considering the health of the movement at the moment (the leading party not being the ruling government for 7 years now).

This is also reminiscent of West-East frictions.  The (mostly English) West feels bilingualism is being wrongly imposed on them. They feel too much power is given to the central provinces (where 60 % of the population lives).  They probably also feel (rightfully) they are paying for our social wealth services considering the thriving west economy of tar sands and, I have to admit, their just efficient administrations.  Those frictions may never disappear, after all British Colombia was almost part of the United States of America if it were not of the Canadian rails built in 1870s.  My point of view on the subject is that parts of Canada and United States are being unnecessarily separated on political reasons.  Vancouver’s economy is probably more active with Seattle’s than the rest of Canada.  The same applies with the province of Québec and state of New York.  Politically enforcing an horizontal relationship where the natural flow of business is vertical.  This argument has been mentioned in the latest High Speed Trains plans of Québec–Windsor and Montréal–New York.  I am going to stop here but this could lead to interesting debates on history and politics. :)

In conclusion, just don’t forget we still exist.  We have a thriving musical culture (among other) as you can see here, here, here and here (my personal favourite local artists these years).  Its absence from the Olympics is an anecdotal abnormality.

Comments (14)

  1. 2 March 2010
    humpdidump said...

    it’s fun that you demand respect from the anglo-canadians, but cannot even show the respect to spell british columbia correctly (or seattle, another english name).

  2. 2 March 2010
    Richard said...

    As an Ontarian who took 9 years of French across Elementary and High school, I can readily report that bilingualism is totally busted in Canada. Despite that, and despite eagrely trying to learn it at the time, I remember perhaps twenty words off the top of my head. 3 years of University, and I have functional German, though. Go figure?

    I dream of a day when Ontario elementary school classes will be taught in either French or English without being part of a French immersion programme. I think that would go a long way to ease French-English tension in the country, if the latter bothered to learn the former’s language :|

  3. 2 March 2010
    Pierre-Luc Beaudoin said...

    humpdidump: an unfortunate mistake. Corrected. While one was a typo, I just had never realised Seattle had 2 Ts!

    Richard: so could English’s teaching be improved in Québec, I have written a post on the subject (in French though): http://blog.pierlux.com/2009/11/24/de-langlais-au-cegep-encore-un-peu-plus-svp/fr/

  4. 2 March 2010
    nixternal said...

    I will say the opening and closing ceremonies didn’t do much for Canada if you ask me. I think they were interesting, but after China’s ceremonies 2 years ago, it is going to be hard to be good. Here in the US, on NBC, you would hear the announcers of the event speak French first followed by the English translation. It is funny you said what you did though, as my father even said, where was all of the French-Canadian stuff, since they seemed to really focus on the native tribes. Nevertheless, I think it was one of the most impressive winter olympics overall. Oh, and another thing they did on NBC, is show a ton of commercials on visiting Canada, so I expect some tourism to occur with that, as here in the US, a common theme was developing, and that people were loving the imagery shown of Canada.

  5. 2 March 2010
    james said...

    I think that people would get over english-french frictions when Quebec laws do. Bill 101 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_the_French_Language ) doesn’t make me proud to live in Quebec. I say: enjoy our diversity, and let the signs have the same sized letters for both official languages. Why make one group of individuals feel the lesser ?

    And as for the olympics, the closing ceremonies featured Francophone quebec artist Marie-Mai ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Mai ) If that isn’t support for Quebec and French, then what is?

  6. 2 March 2010
    Eric James Soltys said...

    Here’s a Canadianism for you: Sorry. :)

    French actually seemed unusually prominent during the Olympic ceremonies for myself, friends and family here in Vancouver. There is very little French on display or heard anywhere in the city, but you will find Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi in wide-spread usage: business signs, street signs, bank machines, municipal documents and websites… All the large cultural events here are Asian and I’m sure there were more than a few locals wondering why Asian culture was ignored during the opening ceremonies.

    I only hear French spoken by visiting tourists while Chinese is most definitely our second language in Vancouver.

    And speaking of high-speed trains: BC just signed an agreement to build one from here along the West Coast to San Diego.

  7. 2 March 2010
    chris said...

    I think you have valid points, however, as an English speaking British Columbian, I would have to say that the closing ceremonies were rubbish – it was more a caricature of what everyone else in the world thinks Canadians are than what we actually are. I was disappointed with the presentation and most of the bands they chose. I was also disappointed that we didn’t have more of the french culture and folksy stuff, along with more of the Native and Inuit traditions. Could you imagine how cool it would have been to have like 500 people doing throat singing?

    I would also like to mention that there is a pervasive feeling here in BC that Quebec and Ontario get most of our tax dollars. Also, the tar sands is Alberta, from where our right honourable PM Mr. Roboto hails.

    That said, I was still impressed by our Canadian team’s performance and maybe that should be something mentioned over the opening and closing ceremonies :)

  8. 2 March 2010
    Pierre-Luc Beaudoin said...

    Eric, right, where was the Asian community? It was even more forgotten.

    James, that was too little too late. As for the charter of French language, it has been softened (by tribunals), signs can be of equal sizes. This law aims to prevent assimilation.

  9. 2 March 2010
    Dylan McCall said...

    I, one Vancouverite, agree: the lack of French was unfortunate. Here we are touting our culture and history but people seem completely oblivious to the ENORMOUS ROLE the French are playing (and have played) in that. The result is something that completely misses the point.

    Oh, and I also agree with Chris that the closing ceremonies were a shame. The act with all the giant caricatures was somewhat entertaining, but that was basically it. They kept trotting out comedians who weren’t funny (or awkward for the arrangement) and musicians everyone has heard of and is sick of. Honest, we do have funny comedians!
    Maybe they were running out of performers who hadn’t dissed the IOC at some point.

    I do have to point out, though, that the French showing (and that for other important groups) seemed to be excellent outside of the ceremonies. People really liked the various things run by aboriginal groups and Place de la francophonie was awesome!

  10. 3 March 2010
    daniels said...

    I always find it fairly entertaining to find Québécois complaining about the lack of bilingualism in the west, who also seem to support monolingualism in the east. (Or bilingualism where English would be used anyway, i.e. as a means to force more fr_CA usage.) I’ve not seen any kind of militant English-promotion movement either, but god help you if you fall afoul of the Québécois authorities for having the English component of your signage be too large, publishing anything in English that isn’t also in Québécois, etc.

    Not singling you out here, mind, just general musing. :)

  11. 3 March 2010
    Dmitrijs Ledkovs said...

    When Quebec hosts olympics it can and should have as much ceremonies in French as it wants.

  12. 3 March 2010
    Pierre-Luc Beaudoin said...

    Daniels: well that’s Canada. Bilingualism is a federal requirement, French in Québec is a provincial one. I haven’t been promoting monolingualism (people should master more than one language), just not bilingualism (I hate to see things in 2 languages, I tend to read both). As I have already mentioned, many laws (both in Québec and Canada) were put in place in a different context: French speakers were forced to speak English with their boss, to shop, to see a doctor. The charter of liberties (federal) defines that English and French were the founding language and that everyone, everywhere in Canada should get services in French, where the numbers are justifying it (which is the case in most provinces). As for English’s life in Québec, it isn’t miserable. The only difference is that they don’t feel like a majority any more. They still have their schools, school boards, hospitals, churches, theatres and culture. It is protected by the first paragraph of the Charter of French, as are members of the first nations.

    Dmitrijs, I completely skipped the subject as I felt it was out of topic, but here’s the story: Québec City was in list to host the 2002 Winter Olympics and lost in the last round because of what is now known: pot-de-vins from the Salt Lake City organisers. The IOC was reformed since. Anyhow, Québec City tried again to get the games for 2010, but were blocked at the Canadian Olympic Committee because they feared the consequences on nationalism and chose Vancouver to represent Canada. Never the less Québec City is going to try again for 2022.

    As for having them in French: sure, the accent would be put on our presence here, but as the 1976 Olympics in Montréal (Québec) demonstrated, it’d be an inclusive event. Mounted Policeman (RCMP) would even raise the flags as it is traditional in Canada, even though RCMP barely exist in Québec which has its own national police.

    My whole point in this post was that Canada pretends to have values: bilingualism, inclusiveness, respect of minorities – all of which are in the Charter of rights added in the constitution in 1982. Now it just has to act upon it!

  13. 4 March 2010
    David said...

    Pierre-Luc, I think you are missing a few facts on Vancouver and the Olympics. I’ve lived in Vancouver my whole life so I can fill in some more info. The last comment I have is the kicker

    * There were some complaints the other way as well. CTV screwed up part of the opening ceremonies, and cut out the English part of the speeches, and only showed us the french. A very short part, but I know a few people that don’t understand French, and wanted to hear the English parts on the English CTV channel

    * There is virtually no French in Vancouver. There used to be a couple of French communities, but according to my parents and grandparents immigrants from Quebec slowed down in the 60s and 70s, and the French is dying out there. Although recently there has being more French from France immigration, the Quebecois are pretty much non-existent. Every French person I know is from either France or Switzerland, and it is really hard to recruit anyone that speaks French, as they are so rare. German or Russian would be a lot easier.

    * Remember how far away from Quebec we are, and our only options are Air Canada and WestJet. It is often cheaper to fly to London or Frankfurt than Montreal.

    * Emigrants from Montreal are all English speakers and never speak highly of how they were treated in Montreal.

    * Cantonese and Mandarin have overtaken large communities in Vancouver. We now have very large parts of the city where no one speaks either official language. Punjabi also to much smaller extent. Our TV channels are in English, Mandrin, Cantonese, Punjabi, and then the 1 government mandated French channel, that is probably never watched.

    * In the last few years due the large influx of non-english speakers, a lot of parents have wanted to enroll the children in schools with less English as a second language students. Their choice has being to try and get them into French Immersion schools, where French is taught in every course right from Kindergarten so all students will be on the same level playing field, and actually learning instead of waiting for teacher to spend more time on other children. The problem is that there is no supply of French teachers for the French immersion schools, meaning parents have to get on waiting lists years before their children are old enough to go to Kindergarten (5 years old). I took 4 years of French in high school, and my teacher was from Vancouver and barely spoke French. Before going into teaching she moved to New Brunswick for a year to learn some French, and then came back to get job. Consequently, even though I did extremely well in French class, I could only read and write. That was 15 years ago, I can’t even do that anymore.

  14. 5 March 2010
    Jean Naimard said...

    The western administration are not “more efficient”, they are just far much less generous with the less fortunate people.