EDITORIAL: Bonjour mon ami! How are you, my friend?

EDITORIAL: Bonjour mon ami! How are you, my friend?

LiQ_Mag_Dec_2105_promoThis editorial first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering Quebec and is currently published 4 times per year.

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BONJOUR MON AMI! HOW ARE YOU, MY FRIEND?
LE BILINGUISME EST MORT, LONG LIVE BILINGUALISM!

by Michael Bourguignon

Those of us of a certain age clearly remember the other Trudeau era of the 1970s and its vigorous promotion of a bilingual Canada.

As a schoolboy in the Outaouais at the time, I remember being subjected to the annoyingly upbeat melody of Acadian artist Angèle Arsenault’s cheery ode to linguistic duality, Bonjour Mon Ami. It was featured on a record album – yes, I’m that old – titled Oh! Canada, produced in 1974 for the Commissioner of Official Languages and distributed to young, impressionable Canadians across this great nation of ours.

For those too young to remember, the lyrics went like this: “Bonjour mon ami/How are you, my friend?/Ça va très bien, thank you!” and so on, kind of like a typical conversation in modern-day Montréal.  

Fast-forward 40 years to the new era of Trudeau the Younger, and we see that much has changed. As it turns out, those days of giddy optimism for a harmonious, bilingual federation had the staying power of a pair of bell bottoms.

The election of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s 23rd prime minister has nothing to do with the current state of linguistic peace or lack thereof, of course. Au contraire, the new prime minister himself is merely emblematic of how some of us were raised to be perfectly at ease in either official language. If you’re 45 or under and reading this, you’re probably bilingual too.LiQ_Sub_Dec2015

If you’re older, you may have had to come to terms with the new reality of life in a province that now does its day-to-day business in French. Welcome! We’ve been expecting you, and we’re delighted that you’ve decided to join us.

Bilingualism is the new black. It’s what the cool kids are doing these days, including your own, because they know that they’ll need to be bilingual to get the best jobs, and that the economic future of Québec depends on the ability of current and future generations to communicate in the international language of business. That’s the current reality.

Unfortunately, another reality is that linguistic minorities across Canada have had to fight hard to gain and maintain their rights, and the fight continues to this day. According to Canada’s current commissioner of official languages, Graham Fraser, it’s a battle that many minority communities – for they are legion, and they are all different – have learned to fight on their own.

Witness the backlash against the Québec government’s reforms to health care and, more recently, school boards, which English-speaking communities have justifiably opposed as potential threats to their rights and autonomy. Turn off the record player and lace up the gloves, folks. We got us a fight on our hands.

To fight the fight, we in Québec City have a wealth of organizations that do what they do without having to fight much at all, such as Voice of English-Speaking Québec and the Morrin Centre, both of which are great examples of valuable community assets that promote the ‘English fact’ of the city while encouraging francophones to discover that, yes, you do have plenty of opportunities to practise your English if you want to.

In other words, though we may not necessarily share the same culture, we share the same territory and the same reality. Whatever our past differences, we’re all in this life together.

Luckily, the tone and timbre of today’s language battles are generally a far cry from the “angryphone” movements of yesteryear. As Fraser points out in this edition of Life in Québec, those who live in Québec as part of a linguistic minority have chosen to do so of their own volition. No point getting all huffy about it.

Still, the fact remains that some things in life are worth fighting for, and it’s heartening to know that minority communities from coast to coast – be they English, French or something just as valid and worthy of pride, praise and defence in our multicultural nation – have developed and continue to support strong institutions.

They continue to survive and thrive, not because someone sang them a catchy tune, but because they are here to stay, like it or not, as part of the rich mosaic that we call Canada.

Again, as Fraser points out, it’s not always smooth sailing, but Monsieur et Madame Tout-le-monde have taken it upon themselves to mobilize when needed to defend language rights in communities across the nation, and that’s an admirable action under almost any circumstances.

In Québec City, as you’ll read elsewhere in these pages, hockey fans have taken the same tack by rallying for the return of their beloved National Hockey League team, Les Nordiques. More power to them!

We can’t count on Céline Dion and Justin Bieber to put bums in seats at our spanking new Centre Vidéotron all year round, although we have high hopes for our own Lost Fingers to one day fill the stadium with their bilingual beats.

Of course, governments, corporations and community organizations all have an integral role to play in keeping our world spinning as it should.

Minority-language schools, healthcare institutions and other essential services would not exist otherwise, and neither would the Centre Vidéotron!

But let’s not let the powers that be forget that we’re paying attention, that we’re ready to mobilize when we feel that our voices are not being heard, and that we’ll continue to make noise until they get the message and respond to it. In Canada, and yes, even in Québec, we’ll do it in both official languages.

Michael Bourguignon, Editor, Life in Québec Magazine 

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About Author

Michael Bourguignon

Michael Bourguignon is a language instructor, writer, editor, translator, narrator, and amateur stage actor. He is available for children's parties.

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