Language Commissioner Graham Fraser on language rights in Quebec
QUEBEC CITY — Quebec anglophones fear they will lose some of their influence in healthcare establishments, following the tabling of Bill 10, an Act to overhaul Quebec’s healthcare system.
Do they have reason to worry? Global’s Caroline Plante sat down for a one-on-one interview with Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser.
CP: Mr. Fraser, welcome!
GF: Thank you, it’s great to be here.
CP: Mr. Fraser, we’re used to hearing you talk about French. We’re spinning that around today and talking about English as a minority language in Quebec. How does your office help the anglophone community here?
GF: I’ve visited probably every part of Quebec to meet with members of the English-speaking community, and I’ve also met with Quebec government ministers to convey some of the challenges that I’ve heard about. My formal responsibility is only in areas of federal jurisdiction, so when I deal with provincial governments or provincial institutions I really serve as a kind of ambassador.
Watch: Bill 10 explained and analyzed
CP: Quebec’s Health Minister recently tabled Bill 10, an act to overhaul the healthcare system by merging some institutions. Anglophones fear they’ll lose some of their influence, especially when boards start to get swallowed up. Do you think they’re right to be concerned?
GF: I certainly think it’s a legitimate concern and I think what we saw on the controversy over the merging of the Constance-Lethbridge Centre in Montreal demonstrated that Minister Barrette is sensitive to these concerns, but we haven’t seen a reflection of that sensitivity yet in the legislation itself. I think there’s always a risk when governments shrink programs and restructure institutions.
CP: What are the areas, in your opinion, that need to be protected? Are school boards for example also relevant when it comes to retaining governance for minority communities?
GF: I think school boards are extremely important, there were a series of court battles about the constitutional protection of school governance. The Mahee Decision, which was a case in Alberta, established that Article 23 in the Charter, which protects minority-language education rights, also includes the right to school governance. So I think there is a constitutional protection for minority language school boards.
READ MORE: Quebec budget worries English school boards
CP: You’ll be delivering a speech about the 1864 Quebec Conference later on … after all these years, what is the state of Canadian bilingualism?
GF: Now, I’m always a little concerned about the use of percentages to define progress because in that period (1961–2011). While the percentage has moved from 12 per cent to 18 per cent, in raw numbers you see a dramatic increase. If you draw a chart, yes the percentage has gone up gradually, but the raw number of bilingual people has increased dramatically in a context where we’re a country that welcomes 250,000 newcomers every year. Simply to maintain the same percentage of bilingual people is in itself considerable success.
CP: Thank you for being with us Mr. Fraser.
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