The Right to Be Anglo: In Defense of Vic Toews

with 67 comments

Vic toews

It’ ok not to speak French.  Really.  Some very smart – if uncool – people will never get to experience the brain candy that are the lyrics of Serge Gainsbourg and Loco Locass.  Some very useful members of society will never experience just how satisfying it is to call someone an ‘estie de con’.

Vic Toews is one of those people.  The Conservative minister of the Treasury – who speaks English, Spanish and German – was criticized by the Montréal Liberal MP Pablo Rodrigez for not speaking French last week.

“It’s clear”, snapped the Minister, “that the Liberal Party considers those of us who speak one official language to be less Canadian.”

He’s right.

The objective of the Official Languages Act has never been to force everyone to learn both French and English.  In fact it’s the exact opposite.  The law dictates that the federal government, Parliament and all it’s associated agencies shall function and give services in the two official languages precisely so that Canadians won’t have to learn a second language to communicate with their government.

This only applies to the Federal administration, by the way.  Provinces, which are sovereign when it come to issues of culture and education, can have different policies, as do Québec, Ontario and New-Brunswick.  That is what federalism is.

That means many jobs in the federal public service will require people to speak both French and English.  Is the position of minister one of those jobs?

Not necessarily.  We assume the Treasury Department has plenty of staff that  is perfectly able to communicate in both French and English to reporters and citizens.  But a minister wants to go beyond that.  He wants to sell the government’s program and convince the population that they want more and that they should re-elect the Conservatives.

If Stephen Harper in comfortable with people like Vic Toews and James Moore selling the Conservative agenda to French speakers, that’s his problem.

It’s important to point out that, contrary to the many elements of the United Empire Loyalist Caucus of the Conservative party who consider any requirement of bilingualism to be discrimination against unilingual Anglos (disrimination against unilingual Francos is apparently not a problem), Mr. Toews defended his right to be a unilingual in any official language:

“I should feel free to be able to speak the language of my choice, and for you to even ask that question is an insult.”

That is the point of the Official Languages Act.  That is how our shared federal administration should work.

Mr. Toews gets it.  The Liberals don’t.

Written by angryfrenchguy

May 11, 2009 at 9:36 am

67 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for the eloquent explanation of administrative bilingualism. It may be a shit idea, it may be a wonderful idea, but it is certainly a misunderstood idea.

    I get extremely frustrated by people who federalist or sovereigntist, Angryphone Albertan or Pur et dur, frame their political discourse based on canards or misunderstandings.

    I do think more anglo ministers should speak French (who was the last unilingual francophone minister?). Communication is fairly important and French is one of the easiest languages for an anglophone to learn.


    May 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm

  2. I respectfully disagree that French is one of the easiest languages for an anglophone to learn; something like Dutch or German is a lot closer to English in form and vocabulary. At least, this is why I feel I made much faster progress in German than I ever did in French. And anyway, the difficulty of learning a second language has to do more with the individual and their circumstances than it does with the target language.

    I understand just a small bit of French, but I don’t understand why someone would frame their political discourse based on ducks…


    May 11, 2009 at 10:48 pm

  3. Thirty-seven percent of English vocabulary is of French origin. French is the most germanic of the romance languages and English is the most latinized of the germanic languages. I didn’t say THE easiest, rather “one of the easiest”.


    May 12, 2009 at 1:45 am

  4. English’s core vocabulary, syntax, pronunciation, etc. are all thoroughly Germanic. That French is the Romance language with the most Germanic influence may be true (I am unsure), but I don’t think any of the Romance languages are particularly notable for Germanic influence, so the actual extent of its Germanic influence is probably quite negligible. English, of course, has plenty of Latinate loanwords, which are used in greater proportions in scientific and academic settings, and in lesser proportions in everyday speech.

    Nevertheless, I would have to agree that French *is* one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn. But that is a comparative statement and it seems to trivialize the difficult of learning any language, especially for an adult. Harder languages to learn would be non-Indo-European and–among IE languages, Slavic languages and such.


    May 12, 2009 at 12:13 pm

  5. Fon : «Thirty-seven percent of English vocabulary is of French origin.»

    Can I ask where you got that figure ?
    I’d been told by a linguistic professor that it was more 70%…


    May 13, 2009 at 9:22 am

  6. I believe the 70% figure is total French, Greek, and directly from Latin combined. Only from French is around 37%, as Fon said. However, the majority of words used in everyday speech are Germanic in origin, so I think you have to take that into account. Many of the words in that 70% figure are superfluous and obscure Latinisms, technically in the dictionary and part of the language, but not part of the people’s lexicon.

    English has only a 27% lexical similarity with French, whereas it has a 60% lexical similarity with German . (A 100% lexical similarly would mean the same vocabulary between languages and a lexical similarity of 0% would mean no common vocabulary.)


    May 13, 2009 at 10:26 am

  7. Those are all the non germanic in origin words you used in your post:

    “figure total Greek directly Latin combined majority used Germanic origin, account. figure superfluous obscure Latinisms, technically dictionary part language, part people lexicon. lexical similarity lexical similarity German lexical similarly vocabulary languages lexical similarity no common vocabulary ”

    And those are the germanic ones:

    “I believe Only is around said. However, the of words everyday speech so I think you have to take that into Many of the words that are and the and part of the, but not of the.
    English has only a with whereas it has a with A would mean the same between and a similarity of would mean”

    Interesting to compare, I think.


    May 13, 2009 at 4:17 pm

  8. Kriss, yes it’s certainly an interesting topic. I counted 38 in the former group and 58 in the latter group, making it about 40% Non-Germanic, 60% Germanic. (“Similarity” should be in the non-Germanic grouping and “no” should not be in the non-Germanic grouping. So the numbers remain unchanged when tallied.) I in no way intended my little speech to be representative of everyday speech, but the proportion of Germanic words still exceeded that of non-Germanic words. It was more formalish and such, and I tend to use Latinisms quite a bit. The Germanic words may be smaller, but they are of no smaller importance.


    May 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm

  9. Lurker, the proportion is not what I find interesting here. Look at the words themselves. The germanic ones are for the structure whereas the non germanic ones are for the meaning.


    May 13, 2009 at 10:15 pm

  10. Okay, I see you mean now. I only kind of agree, and only when it comes to what I had written. Word are words. Meaning comes from bunches of words strung together. I’d say the part of speech matters more than the etymology.


    May 13, 2009 at 11:14 pm

  11. Geez, are you all linguists ?


    May 13, 2009 at 11:58 pm

  12. It’s debated how much influence Frankish dialects had on the development of French vocabulary (estimates range from 400 key words to more than 10% of words). The grammatical link is undeniable. French is one of the only romance languages that requires a subject pronoun for its verbs. It also lacks latinized stress, reverses syntax for questions, and is named for a Germanic tribe. It may not be much, but it’s significantly more than Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or Romanian.

    Moreover, the French verb system is probably the easiest of the romance languages. Of course, that’s not saying much considering that verbs tend to be a romance languages most difficult feature.

    Finally, in Canada, learning French is quite accessible and there are (at least minor) opportunities to use it all over the country (TV, newspapers, libraries, small francophone communities, colleges, etc).


    May 14, 2009 at 1:59 am

  13. Care for a brilliant scientific study of the English language? Read ANGLAID by Michel Brule.

    This is from one of his interviews and clearly shows that we’re dealing with a revolutionary work of a genius linguist:

    “J’ai fait une observation révolutionnaire très simple, qui est que le «Je», «I» en anglais, est hypertrophié en étant toujours en majuscule. Cela change la façon de désigner l’autre. C’est un cas unique en linguistique. Et les gens sont tellement obnubilés par l’omniprésence de l’anglais qu’ils ne se sont même pas rendu compte de cette evidence.”

    “…l’anglais n’est pas une belle langue. L’intolérance et tous les mouvements les plus extrémistes, racistes et ségrégationnistes, c’est le KKK, White Power et l’expression Speek white…Ce sont toutes des choses anglaises, ça. Ça vient des États-Unis, du Canada, de l’Angleterre. Il n’y a pas plus racistes que les Anglais.”


    May 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm

  14. Allophone,

    The way I see it… Michel Brûlé simply demonstrates that there are weirdos among Francophones like in any demographic group.

    Pure Laine

    May 14, 2009 at 4:00 pm

  15. Dear AFG,

    Your written English is so good. In fact, it’s better than that of many native English speakers I went to university with. But PLEASE, PLEASE, research the usage of the apostrophe. You’ve been making apostrophe errors (which I’ll let you discover for yourself) in all the time I’ve been reading this blog.

    It’s just one of those things people are not likely to tell you (like bad breath or something) but I just had to break the silence.

    Emilio Esti-vez

    May 14, 2009 at 4:04 pm

  16. And yeah, that Brule quote is pretty hilarious. I also have to wonder what kind of editors and publishers would let that through?

    Imagine I wrote a book claiming that the French language was the root of all laziness, rudeness, baguette addiction, and over-unionized labour.

    Emilio Esti-vez

    May 14, 2009 at 4:11 pm

  17. Thank you very much for letting me know. I’m guessing you mean its and it’s. Because beyond that I believe the Yanks and Brits don’t agree on the apostrophe rule, right?


    May 14, 2009 at 5:34 pm

  18. On this subject, George W. Bush is recorded as once having said, “the problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

    The possessive apostrophe always goes right after the possessor.

    Thomas’s cat
    The Thomases’ cat

    Where we don’t see eye to eye with the British is on the subject of collective singular nouns.

    American: Pittsburgh has a good team this year.
    British: Pittsburgh have a good team this year.


    May 14, 2009 at 7:03 pm

  19. I respectfully agree with the Fon.
    9 times out of 10 you can guess the French word you are looking for, based on English. (and that tenth time is good for comic relief)


    May 14, 2009 at 8:26 pm

  20. “Parliament and all it’s associated agencies”

    “it’s” is a contraction of “it is” whereas the possessive for “it” is “its,” so your text should read “Parliament and all its associated agencies.”

    But don’t worry … I bet only the top 10% of native English speakers actually get this right 100% of the time. The sooner you fix it, though, the sooner you’re flying high above them.

    Emilio Esti-vez

    May 14, 2009 at 8:32 pm

  21. Yeah, I guess he doesn’t speak German or he’s ignoring the mid-twentieth century.


    May 14, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  22. Only the top 5% realize that one must use both a period and ellipsis at the end of a sentence.

    Writing flawless English is ridiculously difficult. As a result no one does it and writers just hire editors. My grandmother was an editor and she used to admonish me for my use of “your” and “you’re”. It’s all fixed now, but I’m still rather lazy about passive voice, restrictive vs non-restrictive clauses (there American English is much stricter than British English), etc.

    Hey by the way, does anyone remember the question Stéphane Dion couldn’t answer during the election? Was anyone else miffed that an anglophone journalist didn’t know how to accord imperfect subjuntive with present tense in a conditional.

    “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done…?”

    should be “if you were prime minister now, what would you do…?

    or “if you had been prime minister then, what would you have done…?”

    That tense barely exists in French (French doesn’t use subjunctive in irrealis conditions). Everyone jumps down Dion’s throat and no one lambastes a journalist who apparently doesn’t understand tenses. Literally, “if X today, what Y yesterday?” makes no fucking sense whatsoever, unless X is contingent upon Y. And is in imagination-land with a time machine if Y is contingent upon X. It’s funny that Dion picked up on that.

    “if you spoke Chinese now, what would you have said to your Chinese friends when you were a kid?”

    “If everyone journalist had such shoddy command of the English language today, what would E.B. White have thought?”

    Apparently anglophones don’t speak perfect English either.


    May 14, 2009 at 10:36 pm

  23. I’m surprised that something like this is not only published, but also classified as an “Essai Canadien” and available in mainstream bookstores like Renaud Bray and Archambault. Which means that it probably has a hefty target audience.


    May 15, 2009 at 9:28 am

  24. «I also have to wonder what kind of editors and publishers would let that through?»

    Brûlé himself is the editor.
    He owns the publishing house “Les Intouchables”, which specializes in sensational books.

    If it can comfort anybody, I haven’t read a single positive review of his book in francophone media.


    May 15, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  25. Yep. And Anglaid is not published on Les Intouchables, but self-published. So I guess Brûlé the editor refused to print a book by Brûlé the writer…


    May 15, 2009 at 2:46 pm

  26. Renaud-Bray has a standing pledge to keep every book ever published in Québec on stock, so there is no great merit in having yours sold there.


    May 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm

  27. A “hefty target audience” for virtually any type of literary product – especially for political pseudo-essays – is going the way of the dinosaur (and may already have), so please allo, stop with your delusions about ethnocentric francophones chomping at the bit, lining up to buy autographed copies of the latest printed anglophobia.


    May 15, 2009 at 3:16 pm

  28. Since we’re being all pedantic about usage, I prefer “champing at the bit.” Regrettably, “chomping” is now acceptable as well.


    May 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm

  29. 96.55% of all comments (including this one) are off topic. I gather most readers agree with AFG.

    Pure Laine

    May 15, 2009 at 7:30 pm

  30. not me, tho I’m a big fan of AFG’s blog. But life would be boring if one always agreed with every blogger one liked. Actualy I think there’s a paragraph in mid-editorial which undermines the conclusion, viz :

    If Stephen Harper in comfortable with people like Vic Toews and James Moore selling the Conservative agenda to French speakers, that’s his problem.

    Yes indeed, which is exactly why opposition deputies have every right to make it his problem and query the credentials of a monolingual heading a ministry *responsible for language policiy in the federal civil service*. And Toews in turn is entitled to parry with reasons for why his monolingualism doesn’t diminish his credibility for the position. Instead, he opens his veins in a burst of hyperbole, insinuating he’s judged “less Canadian” by the Liberals. Mon oeil. And I’m not a Liberal. I’m a souverainiste à mort. And Lawrence Martin, who’s no friend of Québec nationalism last time I checked, had a very similar reading of the situation as mine:

    This was never about VT’s “right” to be anglo. The OLA provides for unilingual speakers of ang or fr to receive federal services in the language of their choice (supposedly, but we all know which group has gotten the short end of the stick *in practice*.) It doesn’t “entitle* you to fill any job anywhere as a unilingual, nor put your unilingualism beyond scrutiny for every post you may aspire to occupy in public life. Would a unilingual Graham Fraser have been above scrutiny for the post of Commissioner of Official Languages because he could “delegate” to his valets autochtones?

    This has come up before with the Tories, like in the case where an English-only Albertan was appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for.. the Francophonie… And then James Moore, I mean really, Harper’s meretricious efforts to always start every press conference or speech in French start to show for what they really are measured against this wider Tory reality, which isn’t too far removed from the Reform/Alliance reality. The demagogic bellowing in the Ottawa Reichstag over the “separatist-socialist” coalition helped shed the mask too. I was sorry to see the coalition stuff fizzle but almost relieved at the same time since I figured the next Tory clownophone speech would ratchet up to something like the “separatist-socialist-communist-Free Mason coalition receiving arms from Libya” or something.


    May 15, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: