Monday, September 04, 2006

Unilingual leadership in New Brunswick is unacceptable

New Brunswick NDP leader Alison Brewer has announced that she is pulling out of the French-language leadership debate for the upcoming provincial election. Apparently Radio-Canada wasn't willing to provide interpretation for her.

Tough. I am a firm believer that anyone who aspires to become Prime Minister of Canada should be functionally bilingual, and that is even more true for an aspiring Premier my new province of residence, where a full third of the population is francophone. I honestly don't know what possessed the local NDP to choose a leader that cannot speak French - particularly since the only federal NDP MP from this province, Yvon Godin, was elected from a primarily francophone district. Some might think it was worth building on existing strengths, but apparently not so here.

I fully recognize that the NDP is a marginal party in New Brunswick. But that doesn't excuse defeatist organizational behaviour. If you want to be taken seriously as a credible alternative, you have to act that way. In New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province under the constitution, this includes selecting a leader who can make themselves understood in French.

The federal Conservatives (in their various incarnations) figured this out when they made a point of making sure that Stephen Harper was competent to participate in the French-language leadership debates. The provincial NDP here should be capable of coming to the same set of conclusions.

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At 11:14 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although your point is well taken re the language skills of candidates, I believe as Canadians we need to look at the entire skill set that an individual brings to the table. Additionally, what of indigenous languages? Should we be playing the game of the colonizers by conforming to their language requirements? As Audre Lorde states, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Will conforming to language expectations really do anything to advance the plight of the poor, of women, of the GLBT communities, etc.? I am more interested in the moral commitments of the candidates, their work with the disenfranchised and their overall character. Allison Brewer’s record is unparalleled. She has skills that are much more important than the ability to speak French, in my view. I do hope that voters consider her entire skill set, rather than her inability to converse in French, when they vote.

At 6:38 am, Blogger Matt said...

Anonymous: I'm not contesting Alison Brewer's commitments to a number of important issues. However, it speaks to an incredible naivete that you are arguing that the ability to communicate these positions to a huge segment of potential voters is not an essential part of a leader's skill set. If you can't get elected, your moral positions will never be implemented in government policy.

And certainly I would be extremely hesitant before going into Northeastern New Brunswick and calling the Acadians "colonisers". As for indigenous languages (or any other languages that a candidate can speak beyond our two official languages), I would definitely say that these are assets. Jack Layton's ability to speak Cantonese was quite useful in many of the ridings he campaigned in. But does Alison Brewer speak Mi'kmaq? Or Maliseet? If so, it doesn't appear on her biography on the NDP website.

At 10:17 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point, Matt.

And now the Telegraph-Journal is bashing French CBC for not having Brewer take part in the debate. Check out today's (Sept. 7) editorial. I find it hard to digest...

At 8:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as long as translation is available, shouldn't that be, at least, acceptable as a means of communication? I agree that it isn't ideal, wouldn't it be great if we all spoke every language on earth, but we don't. Some of us speak a few languages, some only one, some very many. It is part of a skill set, for certain, and advantageous to be bilingual in NB largely for political, rather than practical reasons. As I said, translation is available. Should I be penalised for not speaking German and therefore unable to read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in its native German? Well, no, luckily (OK, maybe Kant was a bad example... ;)), someone has translated it so I can read it. Also, the experiences of an Upper Canadian like yourself are quite different than a local fellow like myself. I've lived here all my life and am not concerned so much with the power struggle between colonisers like the English and the French and associated language issues. I'm more concerned, as I've mentioned, with who will best serve the people who need it most and who will provide a voice for the disenfranchised. I'm not naive. I'm pragmatic.

At 8:35 pm, Blogger Matt said...

Anonymous: That important voice will, unfortunately, not be listened to if it is not able to speak the language of 30% of the population. This has been proven time and again in the case of unilingual anglophones who tried to run for Prime Minister in Quebec, and failed to break through with voters. The NDP, as a third party, needs to get its message across as effectively as possible, and choosing an effective communicator as leader should be a top priority. Acadians are one of the key groups that the NDP should be reaching out to. I've voted NDP many times in the past, and have been very frustrated by the lack of political savvy here.

You don't have to remind me of the value of translators - I'm married to one. But political communication doesn't occur as effectively through interpreters or translators, and this communication needs to be a top priority for a party that is struggling to get its message across.

Also, I'm not an Upper Canadian. Neither I, nor any of my relatives or ancestors, have ever lived in a province by the name of Upper Canada. My relatives emigrated to North America later than that. I'm an ex-pat Ontarian who is living and working in New Brunswick. A hostile attitude towards people coming from other provinces or countries to New Brunswick, or anywhere else in the Maritimes, isn't going to help develop the local economy. Calling people from Ontario "Upper Canadians" is a parochial slur, and we're well aware of that fact.

At 6:07 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I think that translation is not acceptable for the leader of a New Brunswick political party! Pragmatic as you may be, language is not a "minor" issue for Francophone voters. If a leader is not able to speak to them in their language, it is clearly not acceptable. And this is not a "punishment", as you put it; it is simply a sign of respect and understanding.

At 6:13 am, Blogger Matt said...

I'll assume that my anonymous commenter #1 and #4 are the same person, and #3 and #6 are another person (possibly two?). In any case, anonymous at 7:07 AM, you and I seem to be on the same page on this issue.

At 8:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Matt. Yes, we are indeed on the exact same page.

At 4:56 pm, Blogger Altavistagoogle said...

Would you hire a secretary who can't type?

Speaking French and English to be Premier in New Brunswick is an essential skill.

Would you vote for a leader that doesn't speak English? People complained about Jean Chretien's English skills, but they were far better than Brewer's level of French.

If you don't have enough French to order the number two combo at McDonald's in Edmundston, then you can't be Premier of New Brunswick.

At 11:17 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the ability to speak both languages is important.

However, consider this. It is MORE IMPORTANT that my doctor, my banker, my dentist, my optomotrist are competent in their professions.

I would not hesitate to seek expert advice from a person who speaks any language.


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