Make Ottawa Officially Bilingual


Official languages commissioner nominee Madeleine Meilleur has brought Ottawa civic bilingualism to the fore.

Well Meilleur did because recently Mayor Jim Watson was thoroughly booed by a predominately French crowd for his stand against giving French the official nod with English as the two languages of the city and capital.

The level of animosity in the French community was shocking to English ears for few in the other solitude realized how strongly the francophone segment of Ottawa felt about the issue.

Of course Watson, in his Mackenzie King-esque do-nothing-by-halves-that-can-be-done-by-quarters attitude, chooses votes over leadership. His Worship knows that the bilingualism issue handled poorly could cost him this job in 2018. The prime directive for Watson is to do what is best for Watson. That’s not official bilingualism for Ottawa.

However had Macdonald and Cartier felt that way in 1867, Canada would not exist.

Watson booed by French Ottawa crowd.

Ottawa is already bilingual in practice as is Quebec so making the city officially bilingual won’t amount to much of a change to French or English. But bilingualism is a symbol … a symbol of this country whose capital is not officially bilingual. That’s unfortunate.

Staying away from language and the Constitution have been political mantras across the country. A politician takes a big chance of carving up the country if things don’t work out well.

But the English community needs to realize that official bilingualism in the capital is extremely important to our French neighbours. Meanwhile the English community barely gives it a thought. But the booing of Watson should show how vital this is to our French sisters and brothers.

So now is the time for leadership. We won’t get it from Watson but our English and French leaders need to join together to make official bilingualism become reality in the capital.

An Ottawa without official bilingualism is a great tool for separatists in Quebec … rather a perpetual stomping of that province’s flag. The language situation in Ottawa could flare out of control given how important this issue is to French residents.

Official bilingualism is a symbol but symbols are important in keeping the country together.

It is time for English Ottawa to be generous and support something that means a great deal to French Ottawa. We want everyone to feel appreciated in our city.

It is time for an officially bilingual Ottawa. It might not mean much in practice but as a symbol it is very powerful.

Official bilingualism says the two founding nations have one home in our capital.


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21 thoughts on “Make Ottawa Officially Bilingual

  1. Ken,
    Not to step on anyone’s toes but we have to stop saying ,” two founding nations “.
    There were people here before the Vikings landed.

    The illusion of a multi-cultural country is not as good as an actual multi-cultural country.

      1. Ken,
        We are all learning to be more sensitive to others. I might not be doing well with my second marriage if it weren’t for some stuff I learned during the first.
        Chaz :)

  2. Disagree. Things are going well at this time. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Official bilingualism will mean more jobs for francophones. Will be divisive, just as it has proved divisive in federal civil service. Will affect small businesses. I could go on and on.
    When Gatineau takes the lead and opts for official bilingualism, maybe Ottawa should as well.

    1. Robert:

      Thank you for the comment.

      I agree that we shouldn’t fix things that aren’t broke.

      But if you listen to the booing of Watson in the video, I’d say it is very broke and needs fixing.

      Furthermore it’s a situation the separatists can use.

      As for Gatineau and Ottawa, sometimes you just have to take the lead. If we waited for Gatineau on this, it would never happen.



      1. Ken, simply go and ask any current public servant (federal, provincial or municipal) on their opinion of bilingualism in the national capital region. Things are broke, but not for the reasons you may believe.

    2. Robert roberts,
      As a bilingual Ottawa resident, agree with the ‘if it ain’t broke’ thought. We should have an officially bilingual ‘capital area’ if it takes in Ottawa/Aylmer/Gatineau along with a school system that makes French and English language classes mandatory. Our PMs are expected to be bilingual, so why are we limiting the young with outdated attitudes re learning of two languages. Much can be learned from Europe in that respect.

  3. Ken,
    We shouldn’t make policy based on the noisy booing of some. Yes, there is a strong group who want official bilingualism for Ottawa. They do make their voices heard. But should this be the basis for massive, expensive, and divisive change for Ottawa?

    1. Robert:

      I’m counting on the generosity of English Ottawans. Handled well this could be good for the city and the country.



    1. Marc:

      I think the city is pretty much there now on bilingualism.

      I wouldn’t expect to see many changes. I would think the declaration would be more symbolic than anything else.



  4. Ken,

    It never ceases to amaze me that people like you want to be accommodating without any research or investigation of the potential costs, both financial and social.

    First, let me inform you that Canada is NOT a bilingual country, not now and never can be. We have an officially bilingual federal government, an officially unilingual French Quebec and an officially bilingual New Brunswick. The rest of the provinces and territories are de facto English even if they do provide services to some extent in French. The primary reason that Canada is not now and never can be a bilingual country is that by law since 1974, Quebec is officially unilingual French – check the language legislation.

    In fact, Quebec’s language laws have been cited by the UN as contravening the International Charter of Human Rights of which Canada is a signatory.

    As for Gatineau/Alymer etc. ever becoming officially bilingual, this is simply impossible under Quebec’s language laws. Municipalities in Quebec are prohibited from communicating with their tax payers in English unless the English population exceeds 50 per cent for how can you expect any of them in Western Quebec to ever become officially bilingual.

    As far as costs go, the city of Ottawa’s Language Services budget is currently about $3 million per year. Using the per cent of budget the federal government spends on official bilingualism language services (and this is only what they clearly show), I calculate that the city’s spending on language services under official bilingualism could jump to about $24 million per year and this doesn’t include the set-up costs which could dwarf this number.

    Have a close look at what is going on in New Brunswick, our only officially bilingual province. Provincial government jobs being filled by imported Quebecers (even their current language czar), complaints against English-speaking provincial workers for not speaking French even though a French speaker is available (as an example cost a commissioner who served in the Canadian military his job – even a francophone made a big deal of this as being unfair), school buses running half empty because the French do not want their children tainted by English, even retail jobs including fast-food servers needing to be bilingual etc. etc. This has caused more problems and divisiveness than any other provincial legislation. So, in a province that is about 60/40 English/French, this policy of inclusiveness has backfired, and now the tail is wagging the dog.

    I applaud Mayor Jim Watson and the councilors who are against making Ottawa officially bilingual and I truly hope that they stick to their positions. Come next election, if they do, they get my vote.


    1. Bob:

      First, I’d like to thank you for the insult. Always appreciated.

      Second, I don’t think we’re talking about New Brunswick or Quebec here but Ottawa.

      Third, Ottawa can make “official” bilingualism whatever it chooses to be. It is not bound by your parametres nor Robert roberts’ nor anyone else’s.

      You have a significant part of the population of Ottawa angry about an issue based on race. You try to solve these problems.

      What’s your solution Bob and Robert? I hear your petty biases and generalizations and absurd financial estimates and antiquated arguments dating back to the beginning of federal bilingualism. Now let’s hear your solution.

      You guys are pretty smart. Solve the problem.



  5. The trouble with you, Ken, is that you have not been paying attention. This is not a question of race – the English language is spoken by people all over the world – race has nothing to do with it. The current situation in the City of Ottawa is totally controlled by the City Council – they are making the decision based on the affordability of having everything in two languages. Once it gets the “Official Bilingual” status, the courts get involved & they have been proven to be very pro-French. Provinces & Municipalities should decide for themselves how much of their services should be in both languages. Quebec has decided that only if 50% of their residents are English-speakers will they offer service in English. Ottawa has only 15% French-speakers – yes, they are a very noisy minority but democracies should not conduct its affairs according to how much noise a small group makes.

    1. Kim:

      The trouble with you, Kim, is that if you are thinking this council considers cost, you’re dead wrong.

      This is a mayor and council that rolled up the largest operating budget in municipal history. It is piling up a massive accumulated debt.

      Costs? Come on. This is about votes, Kim. And the mayor doesn’t want to lose votes from people like you.



    2. Ken, what a revelation. You mean politicians don’t worry about votes? Where have you been? That’s the only thing that politicians care about. If the Ottawa City Council is sensitive about the issues that concern the citizens, that’s a good thing. Running the administration in two languages costs a lot more and; puts the quality of public servants into question as they are not hired on “merit” but on proficiency in the language of the noisy minority. Good for the Ottawa Council for behaving in a responsible manner.

  6. Our city of Ottawa can become bilingual when the Belle Province comes bilingual. The country spends billions of dollars on bilingualism and Quebec spends a big fat zero.


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