This is a continuation of the last post (part 1). In the last post I offered six reasons why I believe Franco-Ontarians do not garner as much attention as Acadia, despite being twice as populous as Acadia, despite having a higher growth rate of French used at home, and despite having a much larger bilingual population around them which supports its Francophone institutions.
This post will offer you six additional reasons why I believe Francophone Ontario does not receive more attention. However these six points are much more controversial than the previous six. I’m also going to be quite blunt (but sometimes blunt is the only way to spur action).
They are also “elephants in the room” which I feel many people do not wish to touch. Provincial and federal politicians may not be willing to discuss them, and Franco-Ontarian columnists may not be comfortable discussing them for fear of upsetting a balance which took decades to achieve, and to avoid risk jeopardizing government funding. But if Francophone Ontario wishes to garner more support, more recognition, and continued growth, I believe they are topics which should be talked about and addressed head on. Otherwise it will be difficult and slow for Ontario’s Francophone society to continue to grow in an economically healthy and dignified manner. It is time a serious discussion begins.
Here are the last five reasons why I believe Francophone Ontario does not garner more attention outside its borders:
1. A lack of “large-scale” businesses in Ontario which operate in French:
Societies are often judged by their business and economic strength – full stop, period.
In Eastern Ontario, I know of a couple of business which employ over 50 people, and which operate primarily in French. There are also many small businesses which operate primarily in French throughout Northern and Eastern Ontario. But I know of no large-scale businesses which operate primarily in French.
If you have a society (or even a city) with 600,000 people, but yet it does not have one single business which employs over 100 people which operates in the language of that society, what would your perceptions of that society be? Would you think they’re a strong, vibrant society? Would you give them much thought? Would you write about them or speak much of them, either across the country or internationally? Would you think they should garner as much attention as the society next door which has the same language, but which does have very strong business sector and business presence?
This is precisely the situation Francophone Ontario is facing.
Acadia may not have many French-language companies with over 100 employees. But because Acadians live and work together in a very concentrated society, without being diluted by vast distances, their business environment is conducted in French – and thus they get attention as one cohesive society. They are noticed.
What I find baffling… truly baffling… is that there are many entrepreneurial Franco-Ontarians out there who operate large or growing companies. Yet, once they reach a certain size (ie: more than 10 people, beyond just family members), they generally begin to internally operate in English. Yes, of course they have to provide their services in English to be able to attract Anglophone clientele. But I’m not talking about services to the public. I’m talking about the internal language of business operations. Is it a lack of confidence? Is it a lack of entrepreneurial spirit? Is it a fear of how they will be perceived? Is it all of these reasons and more?
I do not understand why Francophone-owned companies in Ontario do not continue to internally operate in French once they begin to significantly grow (after all, they can still do so while still maintaining services and offerings in English to their Anglophone clientele).
Of all the provinces outside Québec, it is in Ontario and New Brunswick where it should be very easy to operate a business in French. The government of Ontario, and its major cities have gone to great lengths to ensure that Francophone business can operate in French (actually… I know this because I run a business in Ontario, and from day one the provincial government has always given me the option to conduct all my interactions with it in French). You can do all your interactions with the Ontario and Federal governments in French. Ontario’s major cities (and even many smaller centres) allow you to interact with their local governments in French. You can do all your health and safety procedures in French. You can hire French-speaking accounting and law firms in Ontario. Your staff hiring can be done in French (you’re not going to get wrapped on the knuckles for discrimination if you hire employees based on their ability to speak French… it is legally ok to do so). Everything can be done in French.
So why are Francophone in Ontario not jumping on board? Why are Franco-Ontarians not doing this on a grand-scale? Why do we not see French-language companies in Toronto (or other parts of the province), which operate primarily in French and which have 100, 300 or 500 employees?
I simply don’t get it.
Furthermore, there is a reason why I don’t understand it. I have a business associate who has perhaps 200 employees in Toronto, and the language of internal operations of that company is Spanish (even the signs within the building are in Spanish, right down to the employee time cards, and the men’s & women’s washroom signs). I know another company in Toronto with 50+ employees, and the internal operating language is Portuguese. I know of two other companies in Toronto; two with over 200 employees, and one with over 400 employees – and the internal operating language is Chinese! … in Toronto! (accounting staff, warehouse staff, internal emails & reports, staff meetings and all!)
With 600,000 Francophones in Ontario, and 1,500,000 people who can hold a conversation in French in Ontario, I find it scandalous that Francophone associations in Ontario are not concentrating more on promoting an entrepreneurial spirit (on a grand scale) to Ontario’s Francophones. I do not understand why so many Francophone organizations concentrate solely on things like the arts & plays, or history projects, or dotting the landscape with a monument or plaque here or there, or asking the government for more money for feel-good projects.
Yes, these are important things, but I do not understand why they do not seek more ways, as Francophone associations, to help Ontario’s Francophone society create more money for the government of Ontario, for the benefit of all Ontarians, and for the benefit of their own community. If you create more money, then more money will come back to you, and the momentum simply grows.
Not many things gets a government’s attention more than successful businesses and the jobs they create. It would be a win-win for Franco-Ontarians. (The money starts ‘a runnin, and the politicians come ‘a knockin).
I’ve always been a fan of the Kennedy quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country”. In this context, Ontario’s Francophone associations should be asking “Ask not what your province and government can do for you, but what you can do for your government, your province, and how you can contribute to its economic growth on a grand scale!” (I warned you this post was going to be controversial 😉 ).
I make the above statement in the spirit of being someone who is 100% for the promotion, strengthening, and growth of French in Canada. I want to see Canada’s French fact and society thrive. In this sense, I urge Francophones, and the organizations and governments who represent them to take the bull by the horns and economically do something about it. Francophones in Ontario have the numbers, infrastructure and tenacity to make this happen. They have the ability to become an economic powerhouse. I wish we saw more people take the initiative in this direction.
2. A lack of ability to attract immigrants:
Personally, I believe many advocates for minority Francophone communities have got it so wrong on this front. I feel many people completely misunderstand the most important factors which dictate how immigrants chose where to live. I myself was an immigrant to another country (I immigrated from Canada to China — Chinese green card, house purchase, car ‘n all!). And I’ll tell you what attracts immigrants. It is NOT federal or provincial immigration programs, as many advocates would have you believe (that is simply the bureaucratic paperwork end of things).
Rather, it is JOBS! JOBS!! AND MORE JOBS!!!
I’ll give you an example: If you’re an immigrant, and you speak Finnish, are you want to immigrate, will you immigrate to a place where the jobs are in Swedish or in Finnish? Of course you are going to immigrate to a place where the jobs are in Finnish. There is no way you are not going to immigrate to the place where the jobs are in Swedish. Get your head out of the sand if you thought otherwise (by the way, Finland has both Finnish and Swedish speaking regions).
This plays into the first point.
Minority Francophone community advocates in Canada need to shift their focus. They have to start concentrating on creating French-language jobs on a massive scale. Put bluntly — they have to start creating the wealth rather than asking governments to provide it.
How might this happen? Well, it might just take a Quiet Revolution, “hors Québec style”.
Advocates for the growth of minority-setting Francophone societies should be:
- cooperating with our our governments to create a Francophone business development bank
- grouping themselves and our various Francophone associations to found private Francophone pension funds (like our teacher’s pension funds or other private insurance pension funds) into which Francophone workers in Francophone companies (which prove they operate in French) can contribute
- working with Francophone associations to found “private” universities (if individuals in the Canada and the US can form private universities, then our Francophone associations can do the same thing, INDEPENDENT of any government). This will ensure a steady and reliable stream of trained Francophones for a Francophone work-force
- Founding French-first-language banks, insurance companies, etc which are found province-wide
Advocates should be lobbying for immense tax credits and special operating capital loans for construction companies, utility companies, and any company which employ over 100 people outside Québec, and which proves they operate primarily in French (place a bar on it to qualify, ie: 90% of employees speak French at a Federal government C-level and internal operations are all in French, subject to independent annual inspection).
It’s the “carrot and stick” approach… not the panhandling approach. It’s huge paradigm shift. If Québec could do it in the 1960s, then why the heck can our Francophone communities outside Québec not do it (under the umbrella of our numerous Francophone associations).
- Is anyone doing this? Nope!
- Yet, are their cries out there saying that various Francophone communities are already past midnight minus one? Yup.
- Are those making such cries saying it’s not their fault? Yup.
- Is that the right approach? Hell no!
If anything is responsible for killing our Francophones communities “à petit feu” due to a lack of being able to attract Francophone immigrants, it’s a lack of grandiose economic actions which which to attract Francophone immigrants, as much as it is a lack of government initiative.
I love the expression that says “when you point your finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you”. This is a perfect example of one such case.
I am a business owner, and I’m more than willing to take a stab at making a big chunk of it fly in French. Who knows, it may even go national within a few years. But, guess how much support there is for me out there on the part of advocates for the protection of Francophone communities outside Québec? Zero! (Thank-you very much).
If I hire Francophone immigrants, it will be because I go out of my way to find them… not because they chose to settle in Ontario with the hope that people like me would try to find them out of the goodness of my heart (Told ya this post would be controversial).
3. The Two Solitudes which exists between “Québec and other Francophones of Canada”
The border between Québec and Ontario sometimes is more than just a mere line on a map. There’s often a psychological rivalry and division in the mind of many people on both sides of the border. It stems from years of political posturing and opportunism on both sides of the Ontario-Québec border. Québec, in part, has historically defined itself by defining how it is different than Ontario.
At various times in history (especially when the PQ was in power or when PQ partisans went to town with Ontario-bashing), there has been a posturing of outright hostility from powerful Québec personalities towards Ontario — simply to score political points. With time, political scars have formed and have clouded perceptions in Québec of what Ontario is all about (and yes, this works in the other direction as well). Under such circumstances, people’s imaginations shift into overdrive, and non-issues tend to become issues in the minds of significant segments of the population.
Example: When I lived in Gatineau, across from Ottawa on the Québec side of the river, I knew of Ontario Anglophones who would not cross the river from Ottawa into Québec because they had the absurd notion that Québec police were specifically on the hunt for Ontario or other Canadian license plates with the sole aim of giving them a traffic ticket for amusement. These same Ontarians also feared that if they ever had a traffic accident or other incident in Québec, that Québec police and courts would never side with them (sounds absurd, doesn’t it?!?!). Likewise, I knew Francophones who would prefer to drive from Gatineau to Montréal on the old Québec 148 highway (a 2.5 hour drive) rather than cross the river into Ontario and take the faster 1 hour 50 minute Ontario 416 expressway from Ottawa to Montréal (they too felt Ontario police would hunt down Québec license plates, and they also didn’t want to give Ontario their sales tax money in the event they became thirsty and decided to buy a soda en-route). — Major sigh! —
I am seriously not kidding you here – I have met such people on more than one occasion — as unbelievable as it seems.
As someone watching all this from the sidelines, I feel the above notions are grossly exaggerated by those who dream up such absurd ideas. They are notions which are untrue, strange, unnecessary, counterproductive, immature and frankly pathetic.
Despite the fact that most people do not hold views as bizarre or extreme as those above, the fact remains that certain influential individuals and organizations in Québec go to great efforts to distance themselves from anything Ontario related (the PQ, la Société St-Jean Baptiste, the Snyder/PKP duo, TVA-LCN television networks, Le Devoir newspaper, a good deal of actors & actresses, the proverbial Clique du Plateau, etc. etc.).
Damage occurs over time, little by little, when the views of the above few are conveyed in a very public forum – and they begin to slowly shape public psyche and perceptions.
Francophone Eastern Ontario is only a short 30 minute drive away from Montréal. Therefore it never ceases to amaze me that for many people in Montréal and Québec, it might as well be on another planet. You have no idea how many people I have met over the years from Montréal who have never been to Ontario – even Eastern Ontario — just a short 30 minute drive away.
Yet, a number of these same people will be the first to find some reason to blast and criticize Ontario on some front or another. They’ll come up with all sorts of strange, twisted reasons to talk negatively about Ontario: be it their belief that Ontario harbours
- an unfair hidden-agenda regarding trading practices,
- a hidden agenda to entice Québec manufacturers to move to Ontario,
- a hidden agenda to capitalize on Canadian Constitutional mechanisms to the detriment of Québec,
- a hidden agenda of Ontario MPs in Ottawa against Québec,
- a hidden agenda to assimilate Francophones,
- an agenda in this direction, that direction, and every other direction.
And it is all topped off with an incorrect perception that Ontarian views and values are completely misaligned with those of Québec. Yet every day I see just how similar people in Québec and Ontario are (despite their differences). Thus it all just leaves me shaking my head in utter disbelief.
I’ll say first and foremost that Québec’s education system fails its citizens miserably on this front. If you go looking through Québec’s texbooks, you’ll only find silence on this subject and many other subject related to Ontario (unless they have to do with distant historical injustices induced by people who are long dead, and who frankly shouldn’t even matter anymore).
For years, the sovereignist camp has constantly sung a song that Ontario is one big federalist entity which operates against the interests of Québec… and I suppose that eventually this has to have some type of psychological effect on the overall population, despite a recent dip in support for the sovereignist camp.
You may recall the above map from the accent series (“Our 32 accents” Series: Post 4 – The Three big accents“)
Take a look at the yellow at the far left of the map. This is part of Eastern Ontario, and part of a region which has around 200,000 people who speak French with an Eastern Ontario French accent.
Look how close it is to Montréal. It extends right up to Montréal’s Westernmost edge (like I said, Eastern Ontario is only a 30 minute drive from Montréal). Yet many in Montréal and elsewhere in Québec don’t even know that it, or that its Francophone population exists (however, it is one of the most Francophone regions of Ontario).
But when it comes to Acadia, at least an 8 hour drive away from Montréal, everyone in Montréal and Québec knows all about it. Thus, you can see how it blows my mind how “Francophone Eastern Ontario” can remain a completely unknown to so many (and perhaps most) Québécois. It is only a 30 minute drive from Montréal. Eastern Ontario’s Francophone population is the same as Acadia’s (Acadians also constitute around 200,000 people), and it very much resembles Acadia (as you drive though Francophone Ontario, many of the towns are 70-80% Francophone and the main societal language of these towns is French, not English).
It really makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Here is the danger: If Quebec continues to give Francophone Ontario the snub over Acadia, other Francophone countries such as France, Belgium, Switzerland, and international organizations such as the EU and UN, will also not give it as much attention – despite any efforts Ontario’s own government makes on the international scene. It’s all one big chain reaction.
It’s not fair, and it is not just: Yet these are two principles which Québec conversely and consistently demands Canada’s federal structure applies to Québec on all fronts… Thus, do you see the hypocrisy?
Keep in mind that I say this as someone who also has Québec’s interests at heart. Frankly speaking, I have said the following many times to friends in Québec (and most are more than open to, and completely understanding of the following criticism): Sometimes it takes your best friends to point out your worst faults — simply because others will not, or are too timid do so.
4. A lack of International Participation
This concept plays into the above paragraph.
The Ontario government and various Francophone organizations have invested vast amounts of time, energy, and resources over the past two decades to build and reinforce Ontario’s Francophone civic infrastructure.
However, despite these efforts, I do not believe the Ontario government’s efforts to raise the profile of its Francophone population comes anywhere close to that of the efforts of New Brunswick’ government. In this respect, New Brunswick punches far above its belt (New Brunswick is even a full-fledge member of La Francophonie, at the same level of independent countries).
Ontario can learn much from New Brunswick’s example. Ontario can take many more actions on the home front to raise its Francophone profile and interests, both domestically within Canada and internationally.
5. A lack of Francophone (French-first-language) institutions
Among other things which Ontario can learn from New Brunswick are the creation of Francophone universities and hospitals (instead of simply settling for a network of bilingual universities or a network of Anglophone hospitals offering bilingual services). These are attention-grabbing, economy-building, tax-generating initiatives. They garner societal recognition and strength, they grant dignity to those who use them, they form economic and societal polls of gravity, and they serve a practical purpose.
6. Ottawa is not yet designated as an “officially bilingual” city
Declaring Ottawa as officially bilingual would be a good first step in reinforcing Francophone Ontario society. It just makes sense – not only from the perspective of reflecting Ontario’s French fact (after all, a quarter of Ottawa’s residents have French as their first language), but it also makes sense from a national perspective. There are also a good number of Anglophones in Ottawa, in Ontario and across Canada who likewise support this initiative.
Unfortunately, we have had a series of mayors in Ottawa who have not seemingly understood this, and there has been a series of premiers who have not been willing to take the initiatives necessary to get there (although some have come closer than others). But at some point, public dissatisfaction will catch up to them, and things will change. However, the arguments, and the importance of such a gesture to Francophone Ontario’s overall international and national recognition must be better articulated to those in power.
What I am about to say is quite controversial and sensitive, but I feel it needs to be said (I believe many think it, but there are not many who dare to say it — but I will). In Ontario’s Francophone media, I have been hearing and seeing a consistent grumbling and complaining that Ottawa has not yet been declared bilingual. To those in Ontario’s Francophone community who constantly complain, I say the following: If you truly believe that your lobbying efforts to have the city of Ottawa declared bilingual have been effectively planned, then Ottawa would have already been declared bilingual. This means that existing lobbying efforts have not been good enough, nor have they been successful.
Thus, as Franco-Ontarians, if this is truly something that you really want, and if you know this is what is needed to increase your dignity as a society, and to raise your profile as a society to a level it deserves (similar to that of Acadians in New Brunswick), I offer the following words of advice: Sometimes in life, if things are not going your way, you have to take a hard look at your own efforts and ask yourself why things have not worked (instead of pointing fingers at others). Just as I too blame our politicians, I also believe that Franco-Ontarians are equally guilty for not succeeding in having Ottawa declared a bilingual city.
If, as Franco-Ontarians, having Ottawa declared officially bilingual is truly something you want, but if 20 years of assertive lobbying has not worked, then it is time to realize you perhaps have come to a cross-roads.
At this point you have two choices:
- On one hand you can say you tried but it didn’t work, and you can just be content with having tried (at which point you should stop complaining, and perhaps hope that the stars and moons may someday mysteriously align and that the politicians may eventually say “yes”).
- On the other hand, you can ramp things up. If you are not content to settle, and you are not willing to stop complaining, then at least put your money where your mouth is and crank things up a notch or two.
If you are willing to take the second option and ramp things up, there is much you can do. I personally have never been one for civil disobedience, but this might actually be a case where it could be acceptable (peacefully, of course). One quarter of Ottawa’s population on the West side of the river is Francophone. On the east side of the river, 85% of the region’s population is Francophone. Polls indicate that at least another quarter to a third of Ottawa’s Anglophone population outright supports declaring Ottawa officially bilingual, and the rest are not completely opposed to the idea (most see the logic). If these numbers were to take to the streets, they could essentially shut down Ottawa if the protests were channeled properly. Imagine what would happen if Ottawa were to basically be shut down for two weeks. It would be felt far and wide… from city hall, to Queens Park, to the House of Commons, and right across Canada.
The topic of Francophone rights is so sensitive and emotional for such a large segment of Canada — at least 40% – 50% of the country as a whole (from the Pacific to the Atlantic) would back your fight. It is the “good fight” after all. It would be political suicide for the Federal, provincial and municipal governments to not concede to your demands in the face of such organized (and peaceful) civil disobedience. You likely would succeed, and likely very quickly.
You’ve been placidly lobbying for 20 years (actually even more, since the 1950s and 60s) but Ottawa has still not been declared officially bilingual (granted, there is “functional bilingualism”, but it’s not the same from the standpoint of personal dignity and visibility). It is becoming obvious things may not change for a very long time unless your demands are taken to the next level. You are at a cross-roads. Make a choice. But whatever your choice is, come to terms with it and live with it.
Québec has had its Quiet Revolution. It is perhaps time that Francophone Ontario has its own. But it will be the “loudness” of the “quietness” which will dictate how fast and how far the changes will come.
SERIES: FRANCOPHONE ONTARIO & ONTAROIS (6 POSTS)
- ENG – “Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention (#219)
- ENG – Celebrating 400 years of Francophone history in Ontario (#220)
- ENG – Links related to everything “Franco-Ontarian” or “Ontarois” (#221)
- ENG – Why Franco-Ontarians are not better recognized in a pan-Canadian sense, or internationally – Part 1 of 2 (#222)
- ENG – Why Franco-Ontarians are not better recognized in a pan-Canadian sense, or internationally – Part 2 of 2 (#223)