Tag Archives: quebec

Our Empty Words Are Only Spoken in English

By Jason Menard

For an allegedly bilingual country, we do a horrible job of showing it. And it’s time that we, as a country, literally put our money where our mouths are.

The Canadian government has set the goal of having half of its students graduate bilingual by 2013. It’s a lofty goal, but one that will never happen unless changes are made to the curriculum. French language instruction in this country, from coast to coast, must be mandatory for the duration of our students schooling.

Forget the fact that a significant number of students in Canada drop French as soon as its no longer compulsory – the quality of French that’s being taught is deplorable. Not to condemn our hard-working teachers, but they’re just not equipped to handle the demands that teaching a second language requires.

Simply put, our French teachers can’t speak French.

Oh sure, they have the rudimentary knowledge and they’ve got the basic accreditation required to do a passable job. But they don’t have the skill or expertise to help our children succeed. A building is only as strong as its foundation, and the quality and level of French that’s being taught in the elementary school system is deplorable.

My wife, whose first language is French, and I (functionally bilingual) have had the displeasure of reviewing our bilingual son’s French homework since he switched to English school. We could accept the rudimentary level being taught, as one would assume that everyone’s starting from zero. What we couldn’t accept were the mistakes: glaring errors, wrong words being used, incorrect grammar, and poor agreements. And then we wonder why our kids can’t speak French. There’s a problem when, in the past, our son’s French teacher has refused to speak to my wife and I in that language.

And it gets no better. Coming out of high school, our students may think they can speak French. But when they come face to face with an actual francophone, they’re unable to carry on a conversation. Having come through the Ontario high school system and taking two French OACs, I know first-hand that the majority of my fellow students were capable of conjugating a verb – but putting it into practice in anything more than a basic conversation was beyond their scope and capabilities.

Compounding the problem is that there’s really no perceived need for Anglophone students to take French if they’re not living in Quebec. I’d hazard a guess that, other than the remote getting stuck on the French CBC channel, their exposure to the language of Molière is fairly limited. As such, there’s no impetus for our students to take the learning of a second language seriously.

Unfortunately, all this does is further fracture our country. Many English speakers can’t understand the frustration that Quebecers feel when travelling outside of la belle province. They don’t understand the anger, resentment, and feeling of a lack of respect that comes from living in a country that, on one hand, professes to be bilingual, while on the other hand doesn’t practice what it preaches.

Now living in Ontario, I find it embarrassing that when my Francophone in-laws come to visit, they’re unable to find anyone to converse in their own language. They are forced to converse in English, whereas my experience has been that the opposite is rarely true. That’s Ontario! A neighbouring province to Quebec! Is there any wonder why some Quebecers don’t feel Canadian when their own country makes little to no effort – and places no premium – on being able to communicate with a significant segment of our society.

Due to the fact that they’re living in a region surrounded by over 300 million English speakers, most Quebecers will have a rudimentary understanding of English, and – unless you’re extremely rude – will make an effort to find common grounds for communications. Yet we treat French as an afterthought in the rest of our country.

The more rampant xenophobes will cling to the argument that we don’t make the same accommodations for other ethnicities, but that misses the point that this country was founded and flourished as a bilingual nation – an amalgamation of English and French to create a new Canada. Just as my expectation for living in Japan would be that I would be required to learn Japanese, so too is there an expectation that immigrants to this country be able to converse in English or French. But woe be to the person who chooses French thinking that knowledge of that language will open any doors outside of Quebec.

If we’re truly committed to being a bilingual country – and the reasons and benefits are numerous, while the counter-arguments are non-existent – then we need to invest in our future. French must be mandatory until high school graduation. And the quality must improve. We must either hire native speakers, or require more than a couple of courses for French instruction certification.

Otherwise, we’re just paying lip service to the cause of bilingualism — and our empty words are only intelligible in English.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Whither or Wither the CBC? Look to Quebec for Inspiration

By Jason Menard

Black Monday has come and gone. The axe has swung and the jobs of 33 TV and radio public relations employees have been lopped off in its swath. Yet, this is clearly a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, because the CBC’s problems run much deeper than ineffective public relations.

The Canadian Broadcasting Commission – its English wing — has been at a crossroads for years, ineffectively balancing the desire to be both an educator and an entertainer. But now it’s long past time to pick a lane and stick to it, because trying to be something to everyone has resulted in the CBC being nothing to most.

Oh, how it pains me to say this, but maybe it’s time for the CBC to stop presenting Canadian shows simply because they’re Canadian, and let the strong survive. OK, here we go: Canadian Content regulations are bad. They need to be stopped, and the CBC needs to be at the vanguard of this change.

Whew, that feels better. And I don’t feel less patriotic at all. The fact of the matter is that CanCon regulations encourage mediocrity. Why aspire to create a better show, or why try to make something entertaining when you’ll get your exposure and funding as long as you can show you’re from the Great White North?

The CBC and the CRTC’s CanCon regulations are intended to improve and support our Canadian artistic community. What they end up doing is providing it a crutch upon which to lean and, as such, so why would one learn how to walk on their own when there’s no need? Well, that’s if the CBC would actually show a Canadian drama.

Dr. WhoCoronation Street? What, did we get recolonized? Is it part of the Commonwealth agreement that we have to show British shows each and every evening? Then, in Prime Time, we’re inundated with mini-series, movies, and the odd Canadian drama. What? Have we given up the fight already? Is the competition from the American networks, CTV, and Global so stiff that they give up already?

If that’s the case, why even keep up the pretense of being a viable commercial entity and simply go the route of PBS? And is there anything wrong with that? PBS has a dedicated, passionate viewership that actually invests itself into the station. If the CBC has given up the fight against its commercial brethren, would this not be a better alternative for our Public Broadcaster? Not everyone has to play on the same field. Let CTV and Global continue to brand themselves as nothing more than American extensions into the Great White North (even the most noted CanCon, the wildly – an inexplicably – popular Canadian Idol, is just a cheap knock-off of the American, and British, phenomenon) and the CBC can merrily go on its way and explore the best and brightest of Canadiana, without the pressures or expectations brought about by those middling ratings and advertising requirements.

In fact, we’re already there to a large extent. Some people wear the CBC like a badge of honour. They intersperse their conversations with references to the witticisms uttered on Radio One, or they giddily recount a skit presented on the Mercer Report – usually to an audience of blank stares. Maybe those CBC viewers can commiserate with their US counterparts who regale their colleagues with the latest discovery outlined on Nova to a less-than-enthusiastic response. It has become a niche broadcaster trying to appeal to a mass market.

But, better yet, why doesn’t CBC English try to compete against the commercial big boys? The CBC can turn its attention east and look to its French language sister station, Radio-Canada, for inspiration. They’ve actually developed buzz-worthy shows including: La Fureur, a karaoke-style competition that features noted Quebecois artists; Toute le Monde en Parle, an entertaining talk show that Ralph Benmergui and Alan Thicke could only dream of hosting; and Virginie, a soap opera that ISN’T imported from England!!!

The key thing that SRC has been able to do is encourage the development of a French-Canadian star system. Sure, at times it seems that every film, every TV show, and every radio drive-time show is filled with the same people, but these people are supported by the community. Their images are plastered all over the province’s entertainment magazines, and their shows and films are wildly successful.

And SRC doesn’t need no stinkin’ CRTC regulations. Even if the CanCon restrictions were lifted, that doesn’t mean that the airwaves would be flooded with imports from France. Quebec-produced shows would continue to survive and flourish because the viewers enjoy not only the stars involved in the show, but the quality and excitement of the shows.

It’s not a question of highbrow versus lowbrow, because SRC – and its sister news station RDI – also produce a tonne of exciting, dynamic, and informative news and magazine-style programs that appeal to an intellectually stimulated demographic. They truly do offer something for everyone and they’re not afraid to push the edges of the envelope. Whereas, the CBC seems to want to do anything it can to avoid offending the ex-pats or the conservative (small c, please) taxpayer.

The CBC needs to be effectively edgy, and by that I mean it needs to create shows and personalities that appeal to the targeted demographic. There are few things worse than seeing an advertisement aimed at today’s youth that just butchers the rap genre, simply because some stuffed suit decided that he or she could “get down with the kids,” and provide them with something “from the street.” Maybe if the street we’re talking about is Sussex Drive, but not when you’re trying to appeal to today’s media-savvy generation.

Commercial success for the CBC can be done – all they need to do is brush up on their French and tune in. Of course, even if they did make these changes for the better, who would be left to promote it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Quebec Win an Opportunity for Both Sides

By Jason Menard

Monday’s landslide victory for the Quebec Liberal Party, while significant, should not be considered the death knell for separatism in the province of Quebec. In fact, if the right cards aren’t played, future generations looking back at this week’s election may see it as the watershed moment for a renewed sovereigntist movement.

The separatist forces within Quebec find themselves at a crossroads. Its leadership is aging and the youth of Quebec – and even some soft-separatists – have found a more comfortable fit within Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique party.

The separatist movement is in dire need of an infusion of youth and fresh ideas to deal with the realities of the 21 st century. Ironically, it could be the actions of the new Liberal government that could provide that new infusion of youth.

Historically, separatism flourishes in times where the PQ is not in government. The party is better able to concentrate on its raison d’etre and not be bogged down with more difficult issues such as balancing a budget or improving health care.

A number of factors led to the PQ’s current loss, ranging from residual resentment over forced mergers, union disenchantment, and lack of faith in the leadership. The PQ was strongest with charismatic leaders such as Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard – suffice to say Bernard Landry did not captivate the masses in the same way as they, or even Mario Dumont, did.

However, the electorate’s political memories are short. These next few years of Liberal government are key. Mismanagement or public relations nightmares akin to those of their federal counterparts could spark a groundswell of disenchantment in voters, which could be quickly fanned into a blaze of anti-federalist sentiment within the youth of Quebec.

While good government may be the mantra, the reality of the situation is that the underlying causes of Quebec separatist feeling are still there. While French-English equality is greatly improved in the province itself, the essential fact of the matter is that French Canadians are still surrounded by an overwhelming sea of English. Consider the concerns Canadians as a whole have in protecting their culture from the overwhelming American influence, and now transfer that to an even smaller population of French-speaking people warding off the influences of English on their culture in this day and age where borders are disappearing courtesy of a number of influences, ranging from the Internet to Television.

If the provincial Liberals aren’t able to satisfy the needs of the masses, then we could see a startling reversal of fortune during the next election. Which is why it’s important for Jean Charest to separate himself (no pun intended) from his federal brethren and be almost belligerent in his efforts to bring to the fore the needs and desires of the Quebec population to the extent where he must be more pro-Quebec than even his PQ predecessors. Anything less, regardless of the intent, will be seen as a weakness by those soft federalists and separatists who donned Liberal red this election.

It is also important that the rest of Canada does not take an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude towards Quebec. While the majority of people outside of Quebec may have finally breathed a sigh of relief, it’s important for Canadians across the country to continue to work towards improving relations with Quebec. They say a watched pot never boils, and by maintaining a focus on Quebec, federalists as a whole can work to prevent separatist sentiments from bubbling up.

By no means does this mean acquiescing to all of Quebec’s demands, but rather it does mean that we now need to move away from a confrontational style of negotiation between the provinces to a more open concept rooted in mutual understanding and support. There also needs to be a fundamental understanding and appreciation of the role culture plays in each society.

There are those that will apply the overly simplistic Darwinian theory on cultural survival, essentially stating that society should be able to be stand on its own two feet and survive on its own without outside aid. However, we live in a more enlightened age wherein it’s hopeful that we as a country have come to a point where we see how we benefit from being a bilingual nation, with two strong yet distinct societies living under one flag.

If Canada is truly worth working for, then now is not the time to rest, but to redouble our efforts as a whole for the future.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

What You Can See in the Dark

By Jason Menard

It is at times such as Thursday night’s blackout that the best and worst of human nature is revealed. And it’s doubly important that once life gets back to normal, that same human nature is rewarded appropriately.

I was one of the lucky ones who lived through the Quebec Ice Storm with minimal interruption to my life. Living in Montreal at the time, our house was in one of the few sectors that did not lose power. As my downtown office was without any power for the better part of the week, I was able to stay at home and watch the situation unfold.

Like most of you would do, we opened our homes to friends who were less fortunate, eventually fitting five adults, one child, a handful of irritating birds, fish, a chinchilla, and a massive dog into a modest two-bedroom apartment.

We watched the surreal images of the city around us unfold on the television, so far removed from our own reality. We kept in contact with family members – some of whom did not regain power for a month. And we watched with disgust the actions of a select few.

At a time when people are supposed to come together and lend a hand to those in need, we saw stores raising the price of everyday products. Batteries were sold at $5 each, prices for staples like milk and toilet paper went through the roof, and bottled water was sold at a premium. At a time when countless thousands of people from across Canada were feverishly working to send generators and other supplies to Quebec, the people of our own province were gouging those in the most need.

So we turn to London and its surrounding area. From the darkness that enveloped our region emerged the true nature of many of its inhabitants. While the majority of people did go out of their way to lend a hand, there were a select few who chose to take this opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of others.

Watching the local news we were treated to a regional gas station owner – who shall remain nameless at this time, but really shouldn’t be offered that courtesy — who gleefully explained that he was able to raise his prices up to almost 86 cents a litre, due to the need of running a generator, employing extra staff, and making a little extra profit.

Now, I appreciate the supply and demand nature of our capitalist society, and I don’t begrudge people making money where circumstances warrant. But one of the few things that separates us from machines is compassion – the ability to put aside our natural instinct to do more, make more, earn more in the hopes of helping our fellow citizens during extreme situations.

Reports from across the affected area came in with similar stories of price gouging. It is at this point where it becomes our responsibility to ensure that the economic karma is returned in full force.

One of the interesting things that came out of the Ice Storm was the fact that all those establishments that had engaged in price gouging were eventually held up for public scrutiny. Their names, after the price-fixing had been validated, were published in various local newspapers. Through word of mouth, those who had profited most from the despair of others during the Ice Storm, lost the most after the crisis had past.

I’m not saying we, as a community, need to engage in an economic witch hunt, storming the doors of unscrupulous businesses like a vigilante mob. But rather, we should take this opportunity to reflect upon our spending patterns. Look around and see who had the option to gouge you – and didn’t. Talk to friends and acquaintances and see which businesses went out of their way to actively help those in need during the blackout.

Then it comes the time for economic karma to kick in. Patronize those establishments. Let them know that the reason you’re shopping there is in appreciation of their efforts during the blackout. Let them know that you’re grateful for the fact that there were there in the bad times, and that you’ll be there for them in the good times.

Voice your disapproval to those who looked to make a fast buck at the expense of others. Explain that you’re not patronizing their establishment because of their lack of human kindness. Maybe then they’ll understand that the lure of easy money off the backs of those in need is not worth the long-term ill will it creates.

In a society where the price often determines our loyalty, perhaps its long past due that service and value are at a premium. Maybe out of the blackness of this outage, nice guys don’t have to finish last.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved