Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Acadians Find Key to Harmony between French and English French Speakers in East Canada Worry That the Battle to Resist the English Language, Culture Is Far from Won

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Acadians Find Key to Harmony between French and English French Speakers in East Canada Worry That the Battle to Resist the English Language, Culture Is Far from Won

Article excerpt

STUDENTS at the regional French high school in Shediac didn't need time to think about their views on last week's sovereignty vote in neighboring Quebec. "No!" they shouted en masse.

"Our students opposed the vote because they knew that if Quebec broke away, they would be left isolated," says principal Raymond Cormier, who also serves as deputy mayor of this seaside town in the heart of French-speaking Acadia.

"While Quebec has its referendums, Acadians have learned to live in harmony," he adds. "We've had to, we've been a minority so long."

As French-speaking Quebeckers regroup after a narrow defeat for sovereignty, Francophones in New Brunswick say they are close to a "model of cohabitation" with majority English speakers in their own province.

But they also worry that the battle to resist the English language and American culture is far from won.

French speakers make up 86 percent of the province of Quebec, but only 35 percent of New Brunswick. For Quebec separatists, the way to preserve their language and culture is by breaking away from Canada. New Brunswick's Acadians insist that assimilation can best be avoided by drawing on the resources of the whole Canadian nation.

"We are all constantly aware of the American presence south of the border," says New Brunswick Finance Minister Edmond Blanchard.

"But we are convinced that Francophones can preserve their culture better within Canada than outside of it," Mr. Blanchard said.

The key to the Acadian model is a strict equality between minority Francophones and majority Anglophones. A 1981 New Brunswick law mandates bilingualism at all levels of provincial government. In Quebec, minority English speakers need special authorization to attend English schools, while here in New Brunswick, parents can choose between two parallel systems.

Investing in French culture

"New Brunswick is a social laboratory, competing with the melting-pot model that dominates North America," says Lise Ouellette, president of the New Brunswick Acadian Society, the province's main French-speaking lobby.

"We spend millions and billions to save species and plants," she adds. "Why not invest as much in human cultures?"

An October proposal of the New Brunswick Acadian Society urges a policy of "zero assimilation" and calls on the Canadian government to protect and promote the cultural identity of its citizens.

But the group insists that no strategy to resist assimilation could be effective without Quebec. "In a Canada without Quebec, the Francophone population would be 5 percent, a number well below the minimum necessary to constitute a critical mass," the paper argues.

For this reason some 35 busloads of Acadians trekked northwest on the eve of the Oct. 30 sovereignty vote to urge Quebeckers to vote "no" on breaking away from Canada. Nonetheless Shediac's City Hall lowered its own Acadian flag in favor of the blue-and-white flag of Quebec days before the vote to express affection for Quebeckers.

Francophones throughout Canada credit Quebec with launching the 1974 language laws that stemmed what appeared to be the inevitable Anglicization of Canada. But Acadians say that their strategy for the future is very different from that of their Quebec neighbors.

"Quebec says that if you have too many English speakers, you'll lose your French," says Shediac Mayor Raymond LeBlanc. "But that's not what's happening here.

"We've made big progress in the last 50 years in winning respect for the minority language," he adds. "We've always had to fight to get what we have today, but they've started to respect us. When I went to school, our books were English, and we were French. Shediac's business community was once all English. Now it's 95 percent French."

Dubbed "the world lobster capital," Shediac is a resort town whose population triples during the summer months. …

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