When a leader betrays a Canadian legacy.

There was a time back in the Pearson-Trudeau era when tensions ran through English-French relations at the usual flash points in Montreal and Ottawa. And those of us not fully bilingual were the bruised. It is sad to tell of the disappointments suffered from those you had supported so fiercely.

That is why so many Canadians were understandably annoyed with Justin Trudeau last week in his Quebec town-hall meetings. For the Prime Minister to refuse to answer an English language question (about language rights) in English to an Anglophone questioner was both ignorant and ridiculous. If his late father had been witness to that immature lack of judgement, he would have wanted to spank him.

Justin Trudeau used the thin and fallacious argument that as they were in Quebec, he should answer in French. Somebody got to him afterwards and it needs to be reported that he did apologize later but the damage was done.

Insulting people over their limitations in one or another of our official languages can be very foolish. Many of us have spend a great deal of time and money over the years to try to improve our fluency. This is not always an easy task when you do not have an ear for languages. Back when this writer was building a new Quebec division of the Canadian Multiple Sclerosis Society, it was necessary to give a series of talks to people across Quebec. It took a great deal of discipline and practice to learn to give those talks in French. It was very gratifying in some ways that in the question period afterwards that people assumed a competence in the language that really did not exist.

But it is also why we laugh, in turn, at millionaire Kevin O’Leary who seems to think he is God’s gift to the Conservative Party. This guy, who was born in Quebec, more than 60 years ago, attended Quebec colleges and Royal Military College Saint-Jean where he could have become bilingual—and did not. It is just so unlikely that he could become bilingual at this stage of his life that it is laughable.

The last federal Conservative leader in Canada who did not speak French was John George Diefenbaker. While a conservative populist, as O’Leary considers himself, Diefenbaker respected Canada’s official languages. O’Leary has obviously never cared.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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