If Micheal Sabia is an Allophone then I am Turning Japanese

with 59 comments


Last Monday, while answering a question that no one asked, Micheal Sabia, the newly appointed head of Québec’s Caisse de Placement et Dépôt, declared in front of a parliamentary committee: “As an allophone, I consider that I have deep roots here, in Québec.”

This is a very strange statement in quite a few ways.  First of all, the answer had nothing to do with the question that was asked by the Parti québécois MNA Jean-Martin Aussant.  The MNA questioned Mr. Sabia’s commitment to the idea that the Caisse’s role should include protecting companies headquartered in Québec since, as the big boss at Bell Canada Entreprise, Mr. Sabia was involved in a failed attempt to sell the company to an Ontario pension fund.

Mr. Sabia’s reply was an emotional defence of his personal attachement to Québec, his grand-parents and Québec as an open society.

That’s swell and all, but that was not what M. Aussant asked.   His answer, once again, raises questions about Mr. Sabia’s command of the French language.

Stranger still is Mr. Sabia’s claim to be an allophone.  In fact, Micheal Sabia is not, by any definition of the term, an allophone.  He is an anglophone.  His mother tongue is English.  He speak English, some French, and according to the Caisse’s press officer, “rudiments of Italian”.  Well if “rudiments” Italian makes one an italophone, then I am an hispanophone, a classic greekophone and a japanesophone.

With his nomination already on slippery terrain because of questions about his business culture, his knowledge of the financial world and his ability to speak French,  Mr. Sabia apparently decided it would be easier to defend himself if he positioned himself as an “ethnic” instead of a big bad Anglo.

When did Mr. Sabia’s italian roots become an issue?   What do they have to do with the philosophical questions that are being debated about the CDPQ’s role in the Québec economy or his personal approach to managing public funds?

As reported by Le Devoir, Mr. Sabia’s attachment to ethnicity puts him in complete contradiction with the opinion of his immigrant mother, a staunch opponent of Canada’s multiculturalism and bilingualism policy:  “We will never be a great nation until we forget ethnicity and become Canadians.  Multiculturalism divided us and maybe assimilation will have to unite us”, once said Laura Sabia, who’s first canadian language was French,  in a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto.  “Why not a French Québec?  Why should the rest of Canada not be English?  Why can’t we build a nation on this basis.”

Because if race baiting does not help build nations, it has been a very successful way of winning elections.  Mr. Sabia’s answer was straight out of the Liberal (Mr. Sabia is a known contributor) playbook which says that every issue must be spined into a question of ethnicity.

Written by angryfrenchguy

May 6, 2009 at 10:48 am

59 Responses

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  1. “As knowledgable as you are, did you know the City of Vancouver had to underwrite a loan of half a billion as the developer of the Olympic village went under. Check it out.”
    As knowledgeable as I am, I did know that. I’m also aware that credit markets have been slowing for over a year. And I’m also knowledgeable enough to know that your point is utterly irrelevant.

    “Why should it be bilingual….”
    As ignorant as you are you are probably unaware that the olympics were founded by a Frenchman and French and English are the sole official languages of the Olympics and that French is supposed to take precedence over English.

    “in reality Canada is not a bilingual country.”
    This is called a canard. A lie does not become true by repetition. Bilingual country has a specific definition in political discourse… actually it has a few, but you don’t get to define the terms of political discourse all by yourself. You are not the all-powerful world dictator of political dialogue. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    “The Earth is not a blue planet, most of its inhabitants are not blue.” Hmm, maybe blue planet refers to something other than the colour of the inhabitants.

    “Europe has no white people. No one is really white.” Sharp. Whiteness is not a literal description of skin colour, but rather a sociological categorization linked to skin colour.

    “Canada is not a bilingual country. Most of its inhabitants are unilingual.” This is an old and childish argument made by people who don’t know what official multilingualism is… in Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland etc.

    “Did you attend the Bejing Olympics by the way..obviously not as you didn’t get to see the video kiosks in action, where translation and venue information was freely available in a number of languages.” I bet Vancouver will offer similar service. But I knew that before reading this article. You know how I knew? Common fucking sense. It’s a shitload harder to find someone who speaks French in Beijing than it is in Vancouver.


    May 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm

  2. Another post out of haste. Fon

    You and you vulgarities…fuck. shit etc.

    Sign of a poor vocabulary. Sorry Just a comment.

    You were not there. you get you knowledge by others.

    I guess your phobia of being colored is really giving you a hard time.. Shouldn’t ..but that is you. Are you feeling sorry for yourself.

    We will see at the end of the games how much money and you will owe on account of the Olympics…of course I pay taxes and have no choice..Don’t know about you. Whats your tax bracket.? Do you even pay taxes?

    Canada is not a bilingual country as I said.

    Percent of french spoken in the household

    BC 0.4 %, AB 0.7%, SK 0.4%, MB 1.2% ON 2.1%, NB (hell I will give you this one..26%, the Rest of the maritimes are all less the 2%. It truly is a bilingual country He…la francais seulemant en Quebec.

    Suck it up, that is the official figures from the Office of Grahame Fraser. Encore.. desole. notre payee n’est pas avec deux langues. Votre francais seule en Quebec et anglais partout en nos payee.

    Vous voulez plus de jeux avec moi. Apporter quelques faits si vous voulez.

    Really, think about it.. two cultures…two languages that don’t see eye to eye. is it not better they go their own ways. Of course some don’t see it that way due to their limited vision of the realities. It really is “Time to say au revoir”

    Sorry to offend…


    May 8, 2009 at 12:12 am

  3. “You were not there. you get you knowledge by others.”

    I hope you had a great time in Vancouver in the future.

    “Apporter quelques faits si vous voulez.” Pour que vous puissiez les ignorer? Ou pour voir quelle réponse hors de propos vous amenez?

    “votre francais seule en Quebec et anglais partout en nos payee.”
    Votre français seuil au Québec et anglais partout dans notre pays.

    “la francais seulemant en Quebec.”
    le français seulement au Québec.

    Is this the part where you make fun of me and say, “Fon I fooled you. I was being ironic. You need to chill out.”? The grammar, ignorance of basic political terminology, turning a debate about whether or not Canada is bilingual into one about olympic budgets and taxes. Myabe I’m the idiot and you’ve just been joking the whole time. If not….

    “BC 0.4 %, AB 0.7%, SK 0.4%, MB 1.2% ON 2.1%, NB (hell I will give you this one..26%, the Rest of the maritimes are all less the 2%. It truly is a bilingual country He…la francais seulemant en Quebec.”

    Finland. 5.6% speak Swedish as a first language.

    Now a question, what makes a country bilingual?


    May 8, 2009 at 3:18 am

  4. “White people often seem confused or baffled by minorities’ obsession with race, just like men are baffled with women’s obsession with gender politics. It’s not that baffling and it cuts across party lines. I’m not even saying the obsession is healthy. Maybe it’s symptomatic of larger problems both on the part of minorities and non-minorities. But it’s a very real phenomenon.”

    And I personally don’t have that big a problem with this. It’s totally normal and human. We shouldn’t be too quick to judge, especially since francophones do it all the time by viewing a lot of stuff through the language prism a lot of the time.


    May 8, 2009 at 8:15 am

  5. Mulroney is very close to native speaker fluency and even has the Québécois accent almost down pat. I would say that a majority of francophones in Quebec might even consider him to be a francophone.

    Sheila Fraser speaks perfectly fluent but slightly anglo-accented French. (John Gomery is in this same category.)

    I had only seen Michael Sabia in action in French at the odd news conference for Bell, and this week’s testimony was the first time I saw him speaking at length. His French is OK but it was quite a bit shakier than I thought it would be. For having been many times in workplaces where people with similar so-so French skills to Sabia’s are present (and him being the boss will magnify this phenomenon even more), I am 100% sure that the spoken language of work at the Caisse has now become English whenever he is around.


    May 8, 2009 at 8:23 am

  6. Thanks for the french lesson.

    OK then, I totally agree with you, Fon.

    Canada is a wonderful country where the beautiful french and precise english languages are enjoyed by all inhabitants in all regions. The two founding groups live harmoniously and interact on a basis of love and mutual adoration.

    Thank you for pointing out my lack of understanding of the situation and for guiding me towards the path of enlightenment.

    I am a total failure as a Canadian being the useless unilingual that I am.



    May 8, 2009 at 10:00 am

  7. Yes. But it’s important to add it won’t be Mr. Sabia demanding to be spoken to in English, but his Franco co-workers tryig to “help him”/Show Off their English/Making sure they are being understood/trying to sound like they imagine Bay street brokers sound/sucking up/being colonisé.


    May 8, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  8. A bilingual country is either:
    a. a country in which two languages are widely spoken
    b. a country with a significant bilingual population
    c. a country with two official languages.

    I didn’t say Canada was great perfect whatever. Apartheid South Africa was bilingual. It’s not a value judgement it’s just a fact. A bilingual country doesn’t need a large bilingual population. People who believe this are probably unaware of the vast number of unilingual Swiss, Belgians, Irish, etc.

    The point of administrative bilingualism is to protect the right of the individual to be unilingual. Imagine NAFTA became a country. Would it by unilinugal, bilingual, trilingual? Trilingual. Why? So as not to disadvantage the speakers of the three major languages.

    It’s like saying Canada is a monarchy. Many Candians may disagree with this, but it doesn’t change the political structure of Canada. Many Canadians may not support the Queen, but the country remains a monarchy.


    May 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm

  9. ABP,

    “Bon soire and desole pour me paurvre francais.”


    Your French is very readable.

    Have a good evening, too.


    May 8, 2009 at 4:30 pm

  10. Bilingual…I suppose it may be a country where there are two languages commonly used as you have said. Certainly Canada qualifies as long as Quebec is part of Canada. If Quebec were to leave it would be questionable from the numbers with the exception of NB. I suppose my problem exists with the regional nature of Canada where for instance, in the west or the maritimes french is for the most part non-existent.( Other than NB which is 26% F)

    Relax and enjoy the weekend. I will be in Montreal next week so perhaps the culture will further rub off on me (although I have quite a bit of french in my life already). Montreal is a beautiful city which I enjoy when I visit. I hope the weather will be good for some golf, business meetings and some personal time with some of my family.

    a plus tard


    May 8, 2009 at 7:00 pm

  11. Canada is a country where two languages are widely spoken, but moreover it has two official languages. Therefor it’s bilingual. It’s a definition, not a judgement of value. Whether or not the policy sucks, the people are happy, the Olympics are expensive, you pay too much in taxes… none of these things matter.


    May 9, 2009 at 4:17 am

  12. Some of the early gut reactions (Bernard Landry’s among others) did seem to be about him being an ANGLO and not much else and made me feel embarrased.

    Well, that’s to your credit. But then you should also understand why the no-one believes the “a Quebecer is someone who wants to be one” line. Because when push comes to shove, everyone knows just who the *real* Quebecers are.

    Stephen Gordon

    May 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm

  13. Fon,

    “Canada is a country where two languages are widely spoken, but moreover it has two official languages. Therefor it’s bilingual. It’s a definition, not a judgement of value. Whether or not the policy sucks, the people are happy, the Olympics are expensive, you pay too much in taxes… none of these things matter.”

    You are grasping at straws here, Fon. I have never seen anyone that goes through semantic contortions like you do.

    Simply said, a definition is not always right. A politician may define Canada as a bilingual country, but it does not necessarily make it true. If I were to hire a scientist and ask him to test the definition that Canada is a bilingual country, he would say no. “Judgements of value”, or whatever fancy words you say, are important to a defintion. I prefer to call it reality.


    May 10, 2009 at 9:00 am

  14. You could say exactly the same for any people.
    If a tall black african moves to Sweden, how long will it takes to make him swedish?


    May 10, 2009 at 11:02 am

  15. Landry’s *real* initial reactions to Sabia’s nomination (as opposed to the versions being “channelled” to us here without any documentation):

    ‘L’ancien premier ministre Bernard Landry a été le premier à décrier ce choix. « C’est plus qu’une erreur, c’est une faute qui s’approche de la provocation », a-t-il lancé quelques minutes à peine après l’annonce. « Cet homme-là, en dépit de ses mérites économiques, était le dernier profil à choisir pour diriger cette institution. Je pense que le gouvernement commet une sorte de provocation, et même dans les rangs des libéraux québécois, ça ne devrait pas être bien accueilli », a ajouté celui qui a déjà été ministre des Finances du Québec.

    ‘M. Landry a pris soin de souligner que sa critique **n’avait « rien à voir avec le lieu où est né M. Sabia », qui est originaire de l’Ontario. « C’est son parcours, sa culture socioéconomique et sa culture nationale, qui est canadian. Il nous l’a d’ailleurs prouvé encore dernièrement. Il était l’artisan du transfert à Toronto de BCE, qui est un des fleurons de l’appareil décisionnel économique de Montréal, avec toutes les conséquences que cela aurait pu avoir. »**

    Selon lui, il aurait plutôt fallu choisir « quelqu’un qui aurait passé sa vie dans la culture socioéconomique québécoise, qui épouse le modèle québécois » pour diriger « la plus grande institution financière du Québec, avec toute la symbolique qu’elle représente ».


    May 10, 2009 at 1:48 pm

  16. Parizeau’s *real* initial reactions to the nomination of Sabia:

    ‘Michael Sabia, nommé dans la controverse PDG de la Caisse de dépôt, ainsi que sa femme, Hilary Pearson, sont toujours proches de l’ancien premier ministre Brian Mulroney. Et cette proximité des décideurs fédéraux est une source d’inquiétude pour l’ancien chef souverainiste Jacques Parizeau. ..

    ‘Sans évoquer directement l’ancien chef conservateur, M. Parizeau a martelé hier que les sympathies de M. Sabia envers ses anciens collègues ne laissent rien prévoir de bon pour la Caisse de dépôt. Lors de la nomination de ce dernier, Paul Tellier, ancien greffier du Conseil privé, « a chanté ses louanges dans le Globe and Mail ». « On retrouve tous les gens qui ont dirigé les opérations à Ottawa depuis tant d’années. Ça fait l’affaire maintenant de se retrouver entre soi, avec la Caisse en prime », a déclaré M. Parizeau, en point de presse après une longue et dense intervention devant l’Association des économistes du Québec.

    ‘L’ancien chef péquiste observe que « la réaction à la nomination de M. Sabia au Québec est tellement forte » qu’il n’est pas loin de juger nécessaire une commission d’enquête en bonne et due forme, pour mettre en lumière les problèmes de gouvernance à la Caisse. **Il s’appuie aussi sur les propos récents d’Yvan Allaire – qui n’a pas été renommé membre du conseil d’administration il y a deux semaines – pour qui l’esprit de la loi sur la Caisse n’avait pas été respecté dans la nomination de M. Sabia, un processus expédié en une semaine. **« Sa sortie m’a surpris. M. Allaire est un homme réputé, écouté. Si des gens comme lui en sont rendus à protester… il faut s’attendre à ce que cela continue », prédit M. Parizeau.

    ‘L’ancien chef péquiste, qui était l’un des instigateurs de la Caisse dans les années 60, espère que le premier ministre Jean Charest « aura à payer un prix politique sérieux » pour ce qu’il est advenu de cette institution québécoise. « On n’a pas le droit de faire ça aux gens », à l’institution, estime-t-il, ajoutant qu’émule de la haute fonction publique fédérale, M. Sabia est un choix qui a comblé d’aise tous les stratèges anglophones de l’époque Mulroney.

    ‘Le choix de Sabia n’a pas eu l’heur de plaire à beaucoup de membres de « la garde montante », les francophones passés à la barre des grandes entreprises québécoises, mais Jacques Parizeau n’y voit pas de mouvement concerté : « Le Québec inc., c’est devenu un mythe », laisse-t-il tomber.

    ‘Devant 200 économistes québécois réunis en congrès, **il s’est dit outré de l’indifférence manifestée par M. Sabia, lors de l’annonce de sa nomination, face à une vente éventuelle de Bombardier à des intérêts étrangers.** « Si cela arrive, cela ferait tout un trou à Montréal », observe M. Parizeau, qui se dit fier des interventions de la Caisse pour maintenir Domtar puis Vidéotron sous le contrôle d’intérêts québécois.

    ‘« **En disant que le contrôle de Bombardier n’est pas si important, qu’il n’est pas déterminant que le siège social soit ici, M. Sabia a dit quelque chose qui n’a pas de bon sens. Je comprends que, vu d’Ottawa, ce ne serait pas mauvais du tout !** »’


    May 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm

  17. and in this hotly contested category for Clownophone of the Week, this week brings a contender who’s literally burst out of the gate:


    May 10, 2009 at 2:06 pm

  18. “Canada is a country where two languages are widely spoken, but moreover it has two official languages. Therefor it’s bilingual.”
    Montreal and Ottawa are the only somewhat bilingual places in this whole country. The rest of the country is unilingual. (French only/English only)

    “two languages are widely spoken”
    English is widely spoken. Coast to coast. In all provinces but one. It’s the daily language for most Canadians and Americans.
    French is not widely spoken. It’s a local language, limited to QC and NB.

    “it has two official languages”
    A tactic to appease QC. That’s all.


    May 11, 2009 at 12:32 pm

  19. “Simply said, a definition is not always right. A politician may define Canada as a bilingual country, but it does not necessarily make it true.”

    Accurate. Irrelevant. First of all this isn’t the spurious meanderings on a lone politician, this is an accepted definition within the paradigm of political science (which may not be a “real” science, but then again that is the term). Secondly, it’s not about the definition being right. You might not have skin that reflects all colours of the visible light spectrum, but someone might still say you are White. In the context of human relations this particular definition of whiteness is different than it is in the field of optics. You may disagree with the definition. The definition may be wrong or even (in the case of race) rather nebulous, but it’s there.

    Bilingualism is defined in different ways. As a political or administrative policy in a country it’s pretty unambiguous. Most people who claim Canada is not bilingual are simply voicing their displeasure or disappointment with the policy. That’s cool. You guys may be right. Maybe it’s shit. Maybe it doesn’t work. There’s an argument to be made. But stating that Canada is not bilingual because it doesn’t conform to the definition of “personal bilingualism” is to misunderstand the nature of the term. Personal bilingualism describes people. Canada is not a person. The United States is a secular state. This describes its constitutional status. It is also a very religious country, much more so than say… the United Kingdom where the Church of England is an established religion.

    I’m not splitting hairs, you’re simply having the wrong argument. If you wish to outline the problems with the policy, go ahead. But to say that Canada is not bilingual is to say the policy of official bilingualism doesn’t exist (not to mention to deny the existence of two significantly used languages).

    If you wish to deny the operating paradigm of political discourse (in which case we should — should, not must — use common political terminology), then have fun in nonsequiturville, where we can interrupt a discussion on Christian theology with a debate on the merits of ducks versus 7Up.


    May 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm

  20. “Accurate. Irrelevant”

    I would put more weight on what’s accurate than on what’s relevant. “Accurate” usually reflects the real state of things, “relevant” is much more subjective. Just the fact that something is accurate, yet irrelevant, is a sign that something is off.

    The bilingual status of this country in no way reflects the reality.


    May 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

  21. ducks!


    May 11, 2009 at 3:04 pm

  22. 7up!


    May 11, 2009 at 3:04 pm

  23. Did you just sidetrack from the operating paradigm of political discourse with common political terminology?


    May 11, 2009 at 3:33 pm

  24. “Montreal and Ottawa are the only somewhat bilingual places in this whole country.”

    Wait, when did Moncton get kicked out of Canada or are you choosing do “define” Canada as Ontario and Quebec? In that case, is Sudbury part of Ontario? Is Timmins? Is Sherbrooke still in Quebec?

    I’ve resigned myself to the amusing and surreal nature of debating with people who randomly redefine things to fit their concept. I’m not arguing the validity of bilingualism or its effectiveness, but rather its existence. As, I’ve said before the subtext (and you mention it here) is that you don’t approve of it (as you said, it’s just “a tactic to appease QC”). But it’s real. Just like you may forget about Timmins, Sudbury, Moncton and Sherbrooke for the sake of your argument, but it doesn’t change their existence. Nor does it change the crux of your point: bilingualism sucks. I get it. I understand what you’re getting at, but denying facts isn’t a good way to start off.

    By the way, Montreal is officially a French speaking city.

    7Up has definitely stepped ahead of the ducks at this point.


    May 12, 2009 at 1:54 am

  25. “If Micheal Sabia is an Allophone then I am Turning Japanese”

    Typically classy Asian reference made by a Quebecois. Just leave it out, will you? You people are like the 70s.

    Emilio Esti-vez

    May 14, 2009 at 8:26 pm

  26. Typical predjudiced assumption by a canadian that if a québécois talks about ethnicity, he means something negative by it. In psychological terms, this is what is called projection.


    May 15, 2009 at 2:40 pm

  27. Not negative, just insufficiently modern. Enjoy your General Tao.

    Emilio Esti-vez

    May 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

  28. Please describe what is modern and how I am not.


    May 18, 2009 at 10:00 am

  29. […] In the context of Québec’s charged identity politics, however, the word allophone is alternatively used as a synonym for visible minority, immigrant, ethnic and « white people with italian last names trying to claim some sort of ethnic heritage to advance their careers and/or political agenda », i.e. the Parti Québécois’ Pierre Curzi, the Liberal’s Liza Hébert/Frulla-Hébert/Frulla and the CDPQ’s Micheal Sabia. […]

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