Separatists for English Unite!
Pauline Marois’ leadership of the Parti québécois is a first in more ways than one. She is, of course, the first woman to lead a major political party in Québec. She is also the first PQ leader not to be perfectly comfortable speaking English.
René Lévesque spoke English fluently, having grown up in the English-speaking town of New Carlisle and spending the Second World War in Europe with American troops. Although bilingual, neither Robert Bourassa nor Claude Ryan had his ease and fluency in English.
Jacques Parizeau evidently enjoyed using the British English he picked up at the London School of Economics while Robert Bourassa, a Harvard man himself, spoke his English adequately, without any style or apparent pleasure.
Jean Charest raised the Liberal standard considerably, but Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry were not impressed. (And I’m pretty sure Charest doesn’t speak Spanish or Latin like Landry!)
At the Federal level, with the notable exception of Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, the Liberal leaders speak even worse English than their provincial counterparts. Jean Chrétien carefully cultivated his non-threatening image with a heavily accented pea soup English while Stéphane Dion has the bookish accent of someone who learned the language by reading, not talking. Their Bloc opponent Gilles Duceppe’s English, while it would’ve been considered mediocre in Québec City, was paradoxically more than good enough by the standards set by Québec federal politicians.
Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin spoke easily in French and English, but they were Anglophones.
The current situation, with Pauline Marois speaking considerably less English than the fluent Jean Charest is the exception, not he norm.
Less English schools, more English in School
Pauline Marois is under attack these days for suggesting that the Québec education system should make sure that all children are functionally bilingual when they graduate from high school. She demanded that English be thought from the first grade on, and even that some form of immersion be created, by teaching geography and history in English, for example.
As expected, the cowardly Right of the independence movement opposed violently the plan. More frighteningly, some intellectual elites, such as author and playwright Victor-Lévy Beaulieu used the T word. Treason.
VLB, as he is known, certainly speaks English. He just published a 1000 page essay on James Joyce, one of the most notoriously difficult writers in the English language. Yet, the knowledge of English has never diminished his commitment to independence or his passion for the French language!
The knowledge of English has never had a negative correlation with support for Québec’s independence or support for the protection of French. Support for independence rises in the Francophone community with education level and income, both of which usually suggest some knowledge of English.
Nor does bilingualism diminish a student’s ability to speak and write in their mother tongue. Many studies have demonstrated that the kids who go through the French-immersion program in the rest of Canada score better in ENGLISH than those who go through the regular program!
The modern independence movement was born in Montreal’s bilingual Francophone intellectual community, inspired by hearing Martin Luther King and Gandhi speak about freedom, justice and liberty, in English!
80% to 90% of young people in Scandinavian countries speak English. Yet, they are still Swedes and Finns, still speak Swedish and Finnish and still play hockey not football. If the Québec school system could properly teach English to Québec’s youth, the English language CEGEPs and universities would not look so attractive to young people who want to practice the language.
By suggesting that the knowledge of English is dangerous for the people, that they are not ready or that it could threaten the integration of immigrants, Pauline Marois’ elitist bilingual opponents like Victor Lévy Beaulieu only managed to demonstrate that speaking English won’t make you smarter either.
(Also published in the Montreal Gazette as Pauline Marois and her problem with English)