Language is Everything

PQ language minister Diane De Courcy speaks to Quebec's largest employers' group, le Conseil du Patronat, Monday.The Parti Quebecois have been in power for less than 2 months and language law debates and discrimination to non-francophones are already taking center stage. Not only does bilingualism not have to be a requirement, all patients must communicate to doctors and emergency staff at hospitals in French or they won’t get treated.

No matter how much Pauline Marois wants to think that Quebec is its own country where French is the only language and minorities are capable of packing up and leaving, the reality remains that Quebec remains a province in Canada, a bilingual country. This means that people in Quebec will inevitably speak English or French and in case of Quebec culture, ideally both, but even a bilingual being, in cases of emergency will resort to their primary language and since English is a primary language of Canada, healthcare personnel should be able to serve people in both languages.

This wasn’t, however, the case on October 22 when a couple in Vaudreuil-Dorion needed paramedics to help their two-year-old daughter. Mark Bergeron’s daughter Ella went into a febrile seizure and when he called 911, the paramedic flatly refused to speak to him in English and engaged in a language debate instead.

"I'm fluently bilingual, very comfortable in French," Bergeron admitted. "But there are some terms in French that I wouldn't understand unless I studied about it."

"To have to experience something like this, especially with a two-year-old daughter in danger, is unacceptable." Bergeron said.

The entire ordeal happened as the two year old girl was convulsing. Luckily the girl got to hospital and is now fine.

Clearly Quebec’s language laws make health situations complicated in this province, and as Paul Brunet told Global News, "Any patient that requires health services is entitled to be understood by the healthcare giver."

As far as Bergeron is concerned, "We're not talking about getting paramedics to learn Mandarin to satisfy a small percentage of our population - we're talking about the two official languages of our country."

But, the PQ Language Minister disagrees, stating at an employers’ group on Monday that Bilingualism should be “optional.”

"For most positions, bilingualism should be an asset, not a basic requirement," PQ Language Minister Diane De Courcy told the Conseil du Patronat employers' group.

De Courcy  said that a number of immigrants simply couldn’t get jobs because speaking English was one of the requirements and that she was surprised that immigrant organizations showed these immigrants off the island of Montreal where French is more prominent.

"I firmly believe that we can improve the regionalization of immigrants to contribute to economic development," she said, "but when someone suggests to (immigrants) that they leave Montreal to improve their career prospects because they are weak in English, I think we have a serious problem."

She went further to say that new language policy is on its way to address the issue – this isn’t good news for Quebec families like that of Mark Bergeron. If bilingualism is an asset and not a requirement, what will happen to our Medicare system? Our Education system? Our public services?

Let us not forget that Quebec remains a province in Canada and as such, bilingualism should be expected as a requirement since both English and French are the official languages of Canada. As much as Pauline Marois would like Quebec to be a French speaking island entrenched in poverty, it is worth noting the sober reminder that only 1% got her party elected into power and that the majority of Quebecers don’t want separation and don’t want to go back to the old and useless debates about language.

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