I’ve recently been informed that, after the appointment of an unqualified person to a position, and once protest has been voiced, it is expected and proper for any protesters to be gracious and supportive of the under-qualified interloper.
It was not explained to me why anyone would do this to themselves.
It’s reminiscent of what battered women used to be told, “Try harder to understand him.”
It’s like saying, well, the thief is already in the house, might as well leave the door open and make him some tea.
Take as an example the appointment of unilingual persons to bilingual positions – a privilege only ever given to anglophones, let us note.
The culprits are, of course, those who appointed these people. They abandoned their responsibilities and chose to sacrifice French-speaking citizens, without reason. For example, Justin Trudeau and Blaine Higgs.
But those who accept a position they know they cannot fill, are not only shameless but also disregard the group they cannot serve and the group’s rights. They accept because they feel entitled. They are accomplices. For example, Brenda Murphy and several appointments by unilingual Blaine Higgs since he has been Premier.
Those unilingual appointees never have the grace to address themselves to Francophones to acknowledge that they are harming them and collaborating with the disregard of their rights. At most, they sheepishly say they will “improve” their non-existent French, eventually, if they have to, in extremis, while salaried, in the long run. As one person described it on Twitter, “With no obligation to produce results, no set objective, no deadline.”
And why do they suddenly feel the need to say they will learn the other official language? Self-interest.
In 2019, when New Brunswick’s Acadians were dogged from all sides – a unilingual, hostile Premier Blaine Higgs, leading a party that had no connection to Acadians and governing without Francophones, made a pact with an anti-Acadian party, when French was being blamed for the ambulance crisis and school bus costs.
In this 50th anniversary year of provincial bilingualism, Justin Trudeau, representing the “government protector of official languages,” appointed a unilingual woman as Lieutenant Governor. As if hundreds of bilingual New Brunswickers, many of them anglophones, were not available and capable of performing the simple tasks of this symbolic position.
Knowing the appointee for her excellent work on equality and empowerment, I naively assumed that she would not accept. As political scientist Roger Ouellette wrote, “Why not reward the efforts of a bilingual member of the English-speaking community?” Again and again, some seek to demonstrate that French is useless.
In the last year, now that we have an almost unilingual government party, Acadians and New Brunswick civil servants report cases of bilingual requirements being set aside for appointments.
It is as if French speakers are stereotyped as “homogeneous:” “Francophone” is all we are. We are not thought of as potentially indigenous, immigrant, racialized, of various sexual orientations. There is the “Francophone” column and the other columns, and we can’t have it all – except that we can always have an English speaker.
These unilingual appointees are not going to learn French, I have no illusions. But even if, at the end of their mandate, they could answer me when I asked, “Pis, cosse-tu fais de bon ?”, I would still protest their appointment. That is irrelevant. This is not a school. This is a democracy. This is a political issue. I react as a political citizen.
And there are ways to teach French as a second language that cost less, and I’m not just talking about the monetary cost.
When it comes to those who are “forced” to learn French, some would like to turn all francophone citizens into tutors, cheerleaders. This guilt trip that some people want to put on us – that francophones are responsible for the unilingualism of anglophones – does not fly. I am a citizen, not your mother.
That’s why, when Brenda Murphy reads syllables à la française for a few minutes once a year, I have no interest in assessing or praising their progress. Or when I am met with an uncomprehending look from a “bilingual” civil servant because I just answered their question about what is my name by pronouncing it in French, I just repeat louder.
I will not be made to forget that they are complicit out of self-interest, and that others equally qualified could have been appointed without mocking our rights.
Rosella Melanson is a Fredericton-based Acadian feminist and blogger.