Parlez-vous Français? Not in Cornwall: Language Upset in Ontario

By Andrew Bailey

Language controversy in Canada is often associated with Québec, with the French stereotypically turning their noses up at anything English. This malaise is, however, a two-way street: Cornwall is a town of 46,000 in the East of Ontatrio, 120km Southwest of Montréal and 400km Northwest of Toronto. Since January, its Community Hospital has conformed to legislation that favours the hiring of bilingual workers (English and French) over those who only speak English. Considering that 27% of Cornwall’s residents are Francophone, and in theory deserve the same access to healthcare as Anglophones enjoy, one would expect this move to be welcomed.

However, this has not been the case. The mayor of South Stormont (the municipality within which the hospital lies), Bryan McGillis, has withheld his annual donation of $30,000 to the hospital, joining public outrage instigated by Doctor Danny Tombler. Dr. Tombler published a letter in The Standard Freeholder (a local newspaper) criticising the move, stating that Anglophone jobs were being lost at the expense of pandering towards a minority.

MP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry (Cornwall’s electoral district), Jim McDonell has distanced himself from the issue, stating that he would “keep tabs” on the situation, admitting that said situation was proving to be difficult to handle.

This unravelling situation raises the larger question at play: to what lengths should minorities be catered for? Considering that Eastern Ontario has a sizeable Francophone population, I would judge the move a justifiable one: Québec makes numerous provisions for its Anglophone residents. However the situation turns out, the polémique highlights the social and political problems that arise in a region where languages and cultures cross over.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Parlez-vous Français? Not in Cornwall: Language Upset in Ontario

  1. Greg White

    It’s a tough one to think through. My first reaction was that bi-lingual staff would be the ideal, in order to treat the entire local populace in their own language. I expect that it’s crucial to be understood exactly when one is describing one’s symptoms in hospital. Then I started imagining the situation here in Leeds, how a similar stipulation for Urdu or Hindi speakers might be reported. But then, neither of these is an official language of the country, as are English and Canadian French in Canada.

    One might make the argument that all government employees who are customer-facing are required to be bi-lingual, but then would it be fair to have such a requirement only in one part of Canada?

    If the Anglophones are complaining about pandering to minority interests, I would ask them to identify just what percentage of a population has to speak a language before such provision is acceptable. 27% seems a pretty significant minority to me. I wonder how they might feel if they couldn’t find an English-speaking Doctor in a more Francophone district. I imagine they would be outraged.

    Speaking as an outsider, I would hope that recruiters would favour bilingual applicants for the obvious reasons of flexibility and efficiency in service. But I would prefer that this was enacted out of common-sense rather than by law. If the stipulation has been passed to the legislature, then that would suggest that the Francophone population felt that their needs have been overlooked in the past.

    Mayor Bryan McGillis seems to be making a cynical grab for the Anglophone vote in a district where that makes political sense. I’m trying to remember the last time I witnessed a politician acting according to the best interests of the populace rather than for a short-term party-political gain.

    • Donald Deschenes

      I completely agree with You Mr. White. This controversy about official language provided in the Ontario public sector has been debated in our Court system and there is laws in place.

      Mayer McGillis wants to demonstrate leadership in his township. On the other hand he is using this issue to stop the improved health care system for his citizens. He is declaring that the majority of his constituency is on his side. It is strange that his interviews on Youtube provide no room for comments. The comment section is blocked.

      I approve Corwall Community Hospital project to go forward in their project. If $30,000 is missing I can tell you that any English only parking ticket issued by South Stormont are not enforceable for English or/and french speaking citizen. I suggest to give the fine to the hospital and have the ticket voided by the Provincial Court.

      You see, Official Language Act is here for more than 18 years and Provincial Judges has the obligation to abide by the law and honor Official Languages of Ontario. I myself went to court 4 times on to dispute English only ticket and English only signage and I have paid no fine since, because the cases were dismissed before any hearings.

      I urge South Stormont citizen English and French to mobilize in favor of their Health System and express their opinion freely. No matter what language your are speaking, the future of your health care system has been attacked by bad politics and you are the victims.

      Official Language serve the purpose of Equality, diversity and justice. It’s here to stay and we don’t need gost for the 60’s to resurface.

      Donald Deschenes
      Oshawa, ON

  2. This is a comment that was made on the ‘About’ page by mistake, I think, so I’m putting it here so as to locate it in the discussion. This is from Maureen Billings and was made at 2012/02/17 at 10:48 pm.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read such a misinformed article in all my life. I actually had to read it twice. I have no idea where you got your information for “Parlez-vous Français” but before you write an article like that you should check the reliability of your sources. Almost every job advertised in Cornwall now says bilingual required , Federal, Provincial, Municipal, Health Unit, Library,Hospital, etc. which means the majority of residents who are Anglophones have to look elsewhere for employment.
    The Hospital is saying they are forced to do this by the FLSA “French Language Service Act” but in the act it says hospitals are not automatically obligated. Somehow our Hospital in Cornwall acquired this status but no one will tell us why. Of the 27% of Francophones in Cornwall only 2% are French unilingual. Every Francophone who wrote in about this had impeccable English and all said they would want a French nurse, no one said they would need a french nurse. No one is saying there should not be bilingual staff hired everywhere in Cornwall but the question is why should all the staff be bilingual? The French hiring exams are at an advanced level so unless you live in a completely French home you are out of luck. You say Qubec helps the Anglophones. Who in the world told you that. There road signs there are not even allowed to have any English on them. Last year the province of Ontario spent $628 Million on bilingualism just to cater to them and try to make them happy so they won’t separate and because Cornwall is so close to the border we suffer the most. Before you write an article like this please do your homework.
    My philosophy is, if you can’t do something right don’t do it at all.

    • With regards to where I got my sources from, the original article was found here and translated/adapted:

      http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/Ontario/2012/02/11/006-cornwall-bilinguisme-controverse.shtml

      I can’t really think of a source more reliable than Radio Canada/CBC.

      The Doctor in question has changed his point of view, now stating that his hospital should in fact continue receiving the $30,000 a year- but his discriminatory point of view remains.

      I understand the negative aspects that the legislation brings, and that perhaps a more flexible approach to legislation is in order. It is also very clear that you have quite a large emotional investment in the issue. I am not denying the existence of inequality in Quebec towards anglophones; merely highlighting inequality towards francophones in Ontario. The point remains, however, that the principles of the legislation are justified: that they seek to protect the French language (and Ontario’s Francophones) in the face of an English-speaking majority.

      (Andrew Bailey)

  3. Maureen Billings

    Almost every job advertised in Cornwall now says bilingual required , Federal, Provincial, Municipal, Health Unit, Library,Hospital, etc. which means the majority of residents who are Anglophones have to look elsewhere for employment.
    Protecting the 27% French Language minority is an understatement.

  4. Maureen Billings

    “Québec makes numerous provisions for its Anglophone residents” was 100% incorrect and you made no mention about all the other jobs in Cornwall that have bilingual requirements. Your article made it sound like it was just the hospital. There is absolutely no inequality towards francophones in Cornwall, it is the other way around.

    • How about Anglophone schools for Anglophone children, of which there are 340 across Quebec? They may only be available to children who already have English in the family, but it is a provision none the less.

      (Andrew Bailey)

  5. Maureen Billings

    I’m sure Donald Deschene’s hero is Michel Thibodeau who sued Air Canada because he didn’t get his drink in french. He’s wasting his talent on parking tickets. Doesn’t seem like he has a problem understanding english to me. I’m out of here. No time for ignorance for me.

  6. Daniel Giroux

    It goes to show that both sides of the language debate have their yahoo’s:(
    The basic fact is that uni-lingual workers simply have less opportunities than a multilingual workers.
    As for the Quebec laws, stop basing your opinions on what is in the papers and on the news and actually look up the facts on the appropriate government web sites, The language yahoo’s that are protesting Second Cup coffee shops are not the Quebec government. Please base your comments on fact.
    As for hick town mayors using bilingual requirements as excuses for their town not attracting talent, (North Glengarry) or Playing the good old us against them argument to win political points (A favorite tactic of the Parti-Quebcois BTW) (South Stormont). Is just that hick town politics!

    Daniel Giroux

  7. lynn

    It was not a provision per se, these are historical rights of the Anglophone minority in Quebec. The same that has been given and upheld with the Francophone minority in Canada. Mind you, French / Bilingual schools are opening all over Canada while English schools continue to close in Quebec every year.
    I agree there should be bilingualism in hospitals but not everyone who works there need to possess both languages. It is comforting to know that you can be served in the language that you are most comfortable in. Wish the same held true for all Quebec offices toward Anglophones.

  8. This is THE biggest scam, the biggest fraud and lie ever forced upon the Canadian public. People have no idea what this man Trudeau did to this country.

    “Quebec can make French the only official language in spite of the Constitution”. Pierre Trudeau, .

    “There is no way two ethnic groups in one country can be made equal before the law….and to say it is possible is to sow the seeds of destruction”. Pierre Trudeau,

    .” ….Given these facts, should French-speaking people concentrate their efforts on Quebec or take the whole of Canada as their base? In my opinion, they should do both; and for the purpose they could find no better instrument than federalism”, Pierre Trudeau,.

    “I cannot swear it but I think we were thinking to ourselves,… we are a small group, Trudeau, Pelletier, Marchand, Lalonde, Chrétien, myself and a few people in the civil service, say 50 all told…we were bringing off a revolution. We held the key posts. We were making the civil service bilingual (French), kicking and screaming all the time”. Jean-Luc Pepin, Minister of Industry, 1970.

    50 years of spin, lies…thats what we have got. They are changing the names of towns, streets, counties, bodies of water, riding names…and I’m not taking about kebec any longer. It’s now going on all over the country; it’s a mess in Ottawa where they name things after anti-English language bigots and racists all the time. They are slowly wiping out our English, Scottish, Irish, United empire loyalists history. Just like they’ve been doing in Quebec for the last 5 decades (bills 22, 178, 101…)…This is one of the main reasons we are not teaching any history from 1760 to 1982 in our schools any longer. These racist people control government, the curriculum, our money…we get a daily dose of spin, lies and propaganda.

    Wake up… They run everything in Ottawa, they funnel the money where they want, spin, lies, propaganda, revisionist BS … Proof – In that there is constant pressure to rewrite our history – to pacify the cranky Province of Quebec and the “french “outside Quebec – the reason we lost the Red Ensign in the first place – we must do what we can to protect and preserve our history. A history that is under constant attack. Very few Canadians are aware that we now have portraits in our parliament of French Kings – who had nothing to do with the building of Canada- the statue of General James Wolfe no longer overlooks the Plains of Abraham, the only statue in Quebec City is of the losing General, Montcalm. There are statues of three French generals but no statues of the victorious generals at the Valiant’s memorial in Ottawa. That’s right, no General Wolfe, no General Amherst, No Gen. Murray… This historical revisionism is going on right under the noses of the Governments we elect – and they remain silent!

    The simple facts are as more francophone’s get hired for all government positions less and less English speakers are working for their own governments across the country. Don’t believe me; Go check the stats for yourself. Francophone’s are over-represented in all levels of government including hospitals, law, policing…etc. No fairness, no representation by population. They call it bilingualism, yet the term is never defined on purpose and believe me it doesn’t mean fluency in 2 languages in Canada, at least to the French it doesn’t. No political party will speak for the English speaking majority in this province and country. Practical bilingualism, where numbers warrant… is never defined on purpose. In Ontario, NB it now means segregation. The French (they are actually metis, a mixed race, not french) are demanding French only facilities all over the province, not bilingual, French only. $ Bilingualism is really nothing more then a hiring quota for francophone’s and that is a fact…just ask yourself, why are francophone’s over-represented in all government jobs and how come more and more positions are being designated bilingual all the time? And just as important, how come they are NOT fluently bilingual? Some can barely speak English!

    See whats really going on here?

    So while Quebec bans the English language (bill 22, bill 178, bill 101…), wipes out its real BNA, UEL history, while ethnic language cleansing is going on in Quebec, the rest of the country is forced to fund whatever the French (metis) demand. This is going on in every province. Go check.

    “First Quebec, then we take over the rest of the country, one step at a time…through bilingualism…” PT, “How to take over a country through bilingualism…” SD. How ? First comes the right to communicate with gov’t in a minority language (ie French),then comes bilingualism, then comes the right to work in the language of choice(ie French), then comes a bilingual boss,(ie French) then comes a exclusively French department and on it goes until its all French. Its happening all over the country, Ontario, New Brunswick…That’s what’s really going on.

    Go learn our proud, real BNA and UEL history. These were the builders of our country since 1763. Not this phony, revisionist lie, this bilingual, multicultural, 2 founding nations, linguistic duality lie, propaganda, spin that we’ve been living with since Trudeau, and kebec forced this upon the nation. We’ve been part of the British Empire since 1763 and officially an English speaking country for over 200 years…just a fact.

    NO English speaking politician is telling you the truth, is exposing what is really going on.Not one politician, party has the decency, the honesty to expose the truth, to speak the truth,how pathetic. Poor Canada, what a mess. Please spread the word.The truth about Trudeau would be nice for a change. The man was a racist, an anti-English language, anti BNA bigot. Go read his writings; he despised our real BNA, UEL history.

    Until the charter and all the bs (bilingual, multicultural, phony rights…crap) connected to it gets repealed, we will continue to self destruct as we have for the last 5 decades. Until bill 8 in Ontario is repealed the french will continue to take over and wipe out our real BNA, UEL history. They have been bragging about it for decades and the Conservative have allowed this to happen.

  9. Daniel Giroux

    Monsieur Wolfe

    De un c’est Québec et non Kebec!
    De Deux, il na jamais eu de statue de Wolf ou de Montcalm a Québec, mais il y a un monument en honneur du General Wolf ériger a l’endroit même ou il est tombé sur les champs de batails des Plaines d’Abraham, il ya aussi un Monument Wolf/Montcalm dans le jardin des gouverneurs a coté du Château Frontenac.
    De trois, la raison que il y a plus de francophone dans la fonction publique est par ce que les francophone son capable d’apprendre une autre langue quel que chose que je crois que certains anglophone sont incapable de faire !

    Bonne Journée
    Daniel Giroux

  10. Droit pour tous

    Bilingualism is for everyone , Ontario is bilingual and this is where the capital of canada is located. So do the same and learn the 2 official langages , this is what all the immigrants do. Please don’t be jealous of the french and of all the immigrants and do the same learn the other langage it’s a plus and it will help you everywhere you will go and you Will be happy you did it.

  11. surprisingly valuable material, overall I imagine this is worthy of a book mark, thanks

  12. Victor Attica

    Bravo Mayor McGillis! It’s about time someone laid down the law against this discriminatory crap. A close family member is probably overqualified for half the government jobs here in this city, but can’t get hired because she’s not bilingual…Hell, in this ONTARIO town (not Quebec, ONTARIO) they put French first on the road signs…wtf, we are NOWHERE near Quebec here…Talk about catering to a minority.

    When I read he withheld his 30 grand, I was proud. It’s about time someone realized that preferential hiring for francohpones if causing job loss and unemployment for NO reason other than to cater to a minority because they’ll go whine they’re being discriminated against.

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