Late last year, Liberal Senator Maria Chaput introduced an enactment to amend the federal Official Languages Act, which is scheduled to be discussed in the House of Commons early this year. Officially titled Bill s-220, it proposes modifications to the sections of the Official Languages Act that specify exactly where federal institutions have to provide services in both official languages. Practically speaking, Bill s-220 would require the federal government to provide services in both official languages in areas around the country where there are virtually no speakers of one of those official languages.
Bill s-220 is exactly the direction that language legislation should not be going. If it becomes federal legislation, it will represent yet another foolish and wasteful government foray into the issue of language, of the sort that English speakers in Quebec are all too familiar with. Such a bill would benefit French Canadians almost solely; it represents a cheap attempt by the Liberal party to curry favour with French Canadians, especially those in Quebec.
One government institution that would be particularly affected by Bill s-220 would be the RCMP. Under the bill’s specifications, Mounties patrolling the Trans-Canada Highway would be required to be fluent in both official languages, even those patrolling the parts of the highway on which there are likely to be almost no French speakers.
Interestingly enough, the only place where this foolish attempt at mandating bilingualism would not be instituted would be in the province of Quebec. The parts of the Trans-Canada Highway that go through Quebec are patrolled by the Surete du Quebec, which are under provincial jurisdiction, and would thus not be affected by Bill s-220. The bill seeks to forcibly implement bilingualism in places where there is essentially no need for it, such as in Gander, Newfoundland, and Chilliwack, British Columbia. But it fails to make any provision for implementing bilingualism along the Trans-Canada Highway in Quebec, where there is a genuine need for a more bilingual police force.
The sort of language-related hypocrisy which Bill s-220 represents has, in the past, been the sole practice of provincial governments in Quebec. English speaking students at Concordia are quite familiar with government hypocrisy and foolishness regarding language. It is unfortunate that the Liberal party seems to be attempting to replicate the foolish attitude towards language of successive Quebec governments.
The misguided bill also promises to be quite wasteful. Hundreds, if not thousands of government employees will have to be either re-trained or fired, and the costs of doing so will undoubtedly be astronomically high.
Instead of focusing on wastefully mandating bilingualism in places where the population is simply not all that bilingual, the federal government would be wise in making a greater effort at implementing bilingualism in places such as Montreal, where the population truly is bilingual. All too often, English speakers in Montreal and in Quebec are confronted with government officials either at the federal, provincial or municipal level who are simply unable to provide services in both official languages. While this is often a result of decisions made at the provincial and municipal level, if the federal government is interested in ensuring that government services are available in both official languages, it should focus more on increasing government bilingualism in truly bilingual places like Montreal, rather than focusing on ensuring that drivers passing through Smithers, B.C. can be ticketed in both official languages.