Linguistic incompetence!


Linguistic incompetence!


On  January the 17th, the conservative party  of Canada held its only French language debate  for the leadership race.  For anyone who believes that the French language should be an intrinsic part of the political life of Canada, it was an exercise in frustration. To quote a National Post’s headline, it was  a case of the «Tories and the (broken) French Connection».[1] Of the thirteen candidates who had the guts to participate in this sorry show, less than half were able to show a minimal ability to take part in a debate in one of the official language of this country. Worse! In order to mask his lack of skill to speak French, Mr Kevin O’Leary, chose to joined the race the day after the debate; such devious tactics showed a lack of political courage! [2] [3] [4]


Since the late seventies, all conservative Prime Ministers of Canada could speak  French.  Mr Clark and Ms. Campbell were not totally at ease in French, but they had the basic communication skills for the job; at the other end of the spectrum of linguistic competence, Mr Mulroney had total fluency in both languages. By beginning  his  speeches «en français», Mr Harper showed his respect for the preamble to the Constitution of 1982 which states that French and English are the official languages of the country. Even that preamble has a flaw, since Quebec is in a constitutional limbo. May I remind all functionally unilingual candidates  for the leadership of the conservative party that the constitution of 1982 has been adopted despite the unanimous rejection of« l’Assemblée nationale». Thirty five years later, no contemporary political party of Quebec nor any government of Quebec, whether they be «indépendantiste», «nationaliste» or «fédéraliste» have ever proposed to adopt this document as it is written. If I may paraphrase Hamlet, something is wrong in the kingdom of Canada..


The possibility of a unilingual Prime Minister brings us back to the old gripe;” It’s not fair! if my grandchild can’t speak French, then he can’t become Prime Minister of Canada!”. All right! I will take a deep breath, and careful search for diplomatic words. We should ask ourselves what is THE SKILL that all politicians, whatever the party, or the level of government (municipal, provincial or federal) must possess?  Any politician must read documents, make all kind of research, interact with civil servants and bureaucrats, write speeches, answer pointed questions from newspaper reporters, convince other politicians  and voters that his vision is the best. Even more difficult, he or she must be able to encapsulate a complex situation in a neat 20 second clip for the evening news on TV. In other words, all politicians must be skilled communicators!


In 1971, I acquired the certificate to teach French as a second language in Ontario. With my five years of experience teaching languages, I can say with confidence  that three conditions are essential to learn a language. You must have a) intelligence, b) motivation, and c) be willing to work hard over  a long period of time. So! Your grandson or granddaughter cannot or will not acquire  THE COMMUNICATION SKILLS needed to become Prime minister of a bilingual country!  Please do the kid a favour and ask his guidance counselor to steer him(or her) towards a profession  where effective communication is not the most important skill required!


A few candidates have said that they will learn to speak French; as a teacher, I am skeptical! I know that being the leader of a political party is an extremely demanding job. On top of possibly more than  60 hours per week for his job, dozens of town hall meetings, to say nothing of  a family life, you would add an extra 10 or so hours to learn a new language!!! Perhaps those language classes might give him/her the ability to order an all dressed pizza in a restaurant, and then manage to ask the way to the washrooms. And with a heavy accent, he or she may sputter a few words in broken French.  But is that effective communications??? A politician that already has a sound basic of the French language will be able to improve on the job; but to start from scratch appears to be mission impossible.


To candidates for the job of leader of the Conservative party, (those who do not win the race are possible members of a future cabinet!), I will remind you that there is a political reality that a federalist, M. Robert  Bourassa called «les intérêts supérieurs du Québec»; in other words, there are some conditions that all Quebecers, whatever the party, will steadfastly adhere to.


As a symbol of those superior interests, may I suggest a house, in Saint-Pie-de-Bagot. This home witnessed the writing of the manuscript of a book entitled   «Égalité ou Indépendance».[5]  Purchased in 1947,[6] this house was the home of three men who, in later life, were destined to become Premiers of the province of Quebec. This was the home of M. Daniel Johnson, Union Nationale Premier from June 1966 until his sudden death in September of 1968. His son, Pierre-Marc Johnson was a Parti Québécois Premier in 1985. His other son, Daniel (junior) became a liberal Premier in 1994 after the resignation of M. Bourassa. Interestingly, Daniel was the leader of the «NON» campaign during the 1995 referendum for independence. Three men from the same family, three different political parties and a book with such an evocative title, all under the same roof. Hopefully, this house  will soon bear a historical plaque as a testimony of its unique historical significance!


In 1945, Mr Hugh MacLennan published an iconic novel entitled «Two Solitudes». [7]It describes a “soft apartheid” in the province of Quebec where the two cultures do not interact. Since Mr O’Leary didn’t learn French while he lived in Montreal, is it fair to say he is an example of the less desirable characteristics of the two solitudes? But that is not all! On February the 2, Mr O’Leary, again, showed a remarkable lack of sensitivity to the situation in Quebec. During the funerals of 3 muslims who had been shot, Mr O’Leary posted a video where he shoots with a machine gun.


From this side of the « Two Solitudes», I will ask two fundamental questions to all functionally unilingual candidates  who are aiming for the job of Prime Minister. Firstly,«Est-ce que nous faisons partie de votre pays  lorsque nous parlons le français?». Secondly, with your attitude, are you saying that M.Daniel Johnson,  was fighting a losing battle for equality by rejecting independence during the referendum?


Speaking of  the 1995 referendum, there was a pro-Canada rally, three days before the polls. Where are these people who begged Quebecers to stay within Canada? If the people who came to this rally do not break their thundering silence  on this kind of issue, does that mean that they want us in Canada , but as second class citizens? «Qui ne dit mot consent! »(He who remains silent, consents). Speak out!


Any top politician  who hasn’t got the linguistic competence to communicate effectively in the two official languages implicitly suggests a significant step backwards towards the constitution of the United Canadas of 1840 where the stated objective was to «swamp the French» (Lord Durham’s report!). Fluency in both official languages is a non-negotiable minimum for top bureaucrats, cabinet ministers, judges on the Supreme Court or a Prime Minister. In Quebec, a situation where such pillars of the country are functionally unilingual, can only be perceive as  a de facto rejection «du fait français». The ROC (Rest of Canada) should be aware that there is only one possible answer for  what appears  to Québec as a hostile policy… Even though you did not appreciate it, please remember the declaration of a certain general on the balcony of city hall in Montreal  on the 100th anniversary of Confederation!


Monsieur O’Leary,  my motto is «Je me souviens!»!


Gérard Montpetit

La Présentation, Qc.

J0H 1B0

February 13, 2016



1] The National Post,( paper edition), Thursday January 19, 2017  page A 4








5]  Égalité ou Indépendance, par Daniel Johnson,  édition renaissance,1965,


6] Daniel Johnson by Albert Gervais  Lidec inc. 1984, 64 pages


7] Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan, MacMillan, 1945