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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Watch your tongue

BY Will Nicholls Sep 14, 2022

Every four years politicians must bend the knee and pretend they are servants to the communities they represent. Of course, when the voting is over a newly elected party usually enjoys a honeymoon period when they are not judged too harshly… in most cases.

Cree politics is tame by comparison, but we seem to be catching up, judging by the snide remarks and unproven statements made behind opponents’ backs.

But federal and provincial elections are always fun to observe if you remember not to take them too seriously. You see, a victorious candidate can’t always keep their promises to their voters as they must toe the party line or find themselves with very little power to affect anything. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions and to many that seems to be the path politicians take.

A new player in this provincial election is the oddly named Canadian Party of Quebec. Leader Colin Standish threw his hat into the ring with a bit of political blasphemy, saying the French language doesn’t need to be protected and isn’t threatened in Quebec. He observes, quite rightly, that recently published data by Statistics Canada does not show a general decline in the use of French in the province. 

The StatsCan survey did demonstrate a decrease in the number of people who predominantly speak French at home, however. That’s certainly due to the very low birth rate among francophones here, and the fact that the proportion of allophones is increasing due to immigration – without which Quebec’s population would be in free fall, along with its economy. Despite that, the study showed that more people than ever use French in public life. 

That means that the French language is not declining; in fact, it’s thriving. The real worry, it appears, is ethnic. As a demographic group, the number of people in Quebec whose mother tongue is French is in decline. That hasn’t stopped French-language media from engaging in linguistic sleight of hand, though, with constant coverage about the disappearing language of Molière.

Since his party was founded June 15, Standish said language, minority and Indigenous rights would be a key component of CaPQ’s platform as well as bilingualism, religious freedom and national unity. Guess who doesn’t like Bill 96?

CaPQ isn’t alone. Both the Cree Board of Health and Social Services and the Cree School Board say it would affect the Cree of James Bay. Other First Nations have expressed concern as well. Quebec ignored them. 

Now the law of the land, this legislation purportedly seeks to protect French by limiting the use of other languages in public life. As the StatsCan data showed, it’s unnecessary – unless Quebec intends to send language police into private homes to ensure everyone speaks French.

Harder to ignore are the nearly 160 CEOs and top executives at Quebec businesses who say the bill will not only make it harder to recruit needed talent but cause enormous damage to Quebec’s economy. Premier François Legault responded by saying the government must balance economic growth with protecting Quebec’s culture and language. 

But don’t expect those views to get much airplay. Sadly, critical thinking among Quebec’s chattering class takes second place to the Chicken Littles of language politics. 

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.