Bilingualism: City Should Lead, Not React


Ottawa City Hall already is conversant in two languages in what is called locally “practical” bilingualism.

Little expense would be needed to bring the city up to official status … whatever that exactly is.

Perhaps the city could identify areas where bilingualism is needed (which it already does in most cases) in a thorough review of language services and at the end of that review and implementation declare itself officially bilingual. The city government is already very bilingual in its services.

Yes it would mean that some unilingual areas would need bilingual employees to ensure service in French. But then we are producing a generation of bilingual students from our school system so that requirement might not be as onerus as it seems.

One would doubt that the City of Ottawa would have the jurisdiction to impose bilingualism, official or practical, outside city services. So freedom to work in the language of choice in the private sector would be preserved. If businesses choose to be unilingual, that is their right but practically as bilingualism increases, some large one-language businesses might find a pecuniary advantage in bilingualism.

A few people argue that official bilingualism could spawn legal action to expand French usage at city hall or throughout the community. Nothing is stopping French activists from going to the courts today and the French community is angry enough to do that very thing. Ottawa’s French population defended the Montfort Hospital very capably and heroically. They could do the same in other areas as well. So official and practical bilingualism are both open to court interpretation as is most anything else. The key is for the city to write a very good bylaw that says exactly how far official bilingualism extends. Do we need to translate every document the city has made previously? No … unless that’s what the city and its residents want to do. But it seems a waste of money.

What has happened in other jurisdictions (particularly Quebec) won’t happen here. The English majority will see to that. It is very strong. Hard to imagine why anglophones are so threatened by official bilingualism. The English are very good at defending themselves.

In fact the English community is so strong that it should embrace official bilingualism at city hall. English is not threatened by this. The language can stand up on its own.

But this country strives to be bilingual in theory if not in practice. Its capital, chosen for its proximity to English and French Canada, should continue that tradition by making its city government officially and practically bilingual. We unilingual dinosaurs are being replaced by bilingual young people as the baby boomers age and retire. Good.

Some people have argued on this website that your agent backs “the French”. Yes I do. I back all Ottawans. We are all Ottawans … English and French and the other multicultural parts of our community.

The city government should embody the spirit of the two major languages of Canada. Who cares what happens in other jurisdictions.

English Ottawa should lead in this quest, not be reactionary … show that an idea can be achieved in its civic government. English is strong in culture and language in this city and can easily afford to be generous.


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9 thoughts on “Bilingualism: City Should Lead, Not React

    1. Robert:

      I don’t know why I have to justify this but I guess I am.

      I don’t believe I’m a fanatic and, if you pause for a moment, I think you will agree.

      The “official bilingualism” debate began on May 18 when language commissioner nominee Madeleine Meilleur said Ottawa should be officially bilingual.

      That’s a legitimate news story. One post on the subject spawned about 30 comments.

      So it’s newsworthy and commenters aren’t dropping the subject.

      People care about this issue, not just this “fanatic.”



  1. The (long) article below is from 2011 — went past Grant School last week and it is all boarded up. So what happened — all the nice sentiments on bilingualism, yet boarded up.
    Members of the francophone community gathered behind the former Grant Alternative School in Ottawa’s west end to learn the province is donating $4 million to a new community centre on the site.
    “The transformation of this centre will change the quality of life of all the people who use this centre from a health, social services and education (perspective),” said Bob Chiarelli, MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean and Infrastructure minister.
    The announcement, which was made mostly in French, was met with applause and cheers from a small crowd.
    The City of Ottawa had purchased school for $3.9 million in 2008 with the intent to keep it for community use. The Centre multiservices francophone de l’Ouest d’Ottawa, or CFMO, then approached the city and in August 2010, city council agreed to sell the property to the group for $2 million. The sale hasn’t been finalized yet, and the francophone group is still in the process of purchasing it.”

    1. Fed-up:

      Sorry I cut the article back but I’m concerned about running the whole thing or as much as you wanted for copyright reasons.




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