"Speak White." (English-French Relations in Canada) (Editorial)

Canadian Dimension, April-May 1990 | Go to article overview

"Speak White." (English-French Relations in Canada) (Editorial)


Once again the voice of English-only bigotry is heard across the land. Arguing the cost of French language services, over 50 cities have declared themselves "English-only." The fact that none of these cities provide language services to their Francophone citizens, and that none are required to do so by any federal or provincial legislation, is all beside the point.

The real question is how reactionary demagogues are able to mobilize thousands of people around an issue with little or no direct impact on them. We do not believe that working class people of Sault Ste Marie or Thunder Bay or Niagara Falls etc., are racists or bigots, but they are allowing themselves to be used by elements who are.

The last time this issue surfaced was in the winter of 1984, when the attempt of Manitoba's then-NDP government to entrench French language rights in the constitution prompted the Tory bell-ringing episode and the rise of a virulently racist populism. The environment that prompted this vicious display of bigotry is even more prevalent today.

Six years of Tory rule has seen taxes rise by an average of $1000 per tax payer with more to come by way of the GST; real wages drop by 5 per cent; mounting job insecurity via the Free Trade Agreement with only Mcjobs available over the horizon; deep cuts in social programs and Unemployment Insurance; and huge increases in university tuition fees. Meech Lake has inflamed divisions and separated Canadians along national, ethnic, gender and regional lines. The Free Trade Agreement has caused both English Canada and French Canada to look to the US as their natural partner, rather than each other. The country appears to be breaking up. People are running scared. Their world is collapsing. They are looking for scapegoats. The Right has rounded up the usual suspects.

Meanwhile, with the federal government shifting major portions of its fiscal responsibilities to the provinces, and the provinces, Ontario for example, passing some of their burdens onto the municipalities with their very narrow tax base, it is no wonder that we have seen the beginnings of a municipal tax revolt. In this context, we can understand the resistance of funding French language schools for a handful of francophone studens where there already exist both French immersion public schools and Catholic schools. But we believe that the solution does not lie in attacking minority language rights, but in extensive tax reform. In our view, ours would be a better society if, where numbers warrant, all people have the right to choose the language their children are educated in.

In our May, 1984 issue, Dimension ran an editorial we called "French Language Services: Grassroots Racism." We think it has equal application today so we are publishing excerpts of it here:

The French language Services question has become a symbol to which people are reacting. …

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