How bilingual?

Now that the CPC leadership candidates’ French debate is over and Kevin O’Leary is “in” the race Campbell Clark, writing in the Globe and Mail, looks at the French language skills of the field:

Two, Maxime Bernier and Steve Blaney are fluent, he says …

… that’s not surprising and I expect that Pierre Lemieux is also fluent, but I’m not sure any of them, even M Bernier whose positions I find admirable, can lead up back to power in 2019 …

Campbell Clark says that a few, some contenders and some long-shots, are (barely) adequate, including …

… but too many, he says, including Kellie Leitch, Deepak Obhrai and Lisa Rait are not good enough, not good at all …

… and I guess that we can safely assume that Kevin O’Leary will be the same.

We know two things:

  1. Smart, disciplined people, raised in English (or another language) can learn French ~ Stephen Harper did it; and
  2. The French language media is, not surprisingly, much more concerned about how download (1)chretien_ballswell an English Canadian speaks French than the English language media is about how well a French Canadian speaks English. It is not a double standard; the French speaking journalists, like a majority of French speaking Canadians are worried about the future of the French language in North America and they see politicians’ language skills as a signal about their commitment to ALL of Canada.

How much does it matter?

There are 338 seats in the House of Commons. If we divide Canada at the Ottawa river then the five provinces East of the Ottawa River (Quebec and Atlantic Canada) have 110 and the five provinces West of the Ottawa River (BC, AB, SK, MB and ON) have the other 228 and that ratio will likely get worse as population growth will occur, mainly, in the suburbs around e.g. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and, of course, Toronto. 170 seats are needed for a majority so, in theory, a party could win by getting, say, 160 of the 228 seats West of the Ottawa River (a whopping 70% in other words) and only 10 in the other five, Eastern, provinces. But it is far, far easier to win if we, Conservatives can in, as we have done in the past, say 5 to 15 seats in Quebec and 5 to 15 in Atlantic Canada, but 20-30, overall, and then 140-150 (a more achievable 60%) in Canada West of the Ottawa River. It will be hard for a unilingual leader to win in Ontario because, traditionally, Ontarians have valued national unity and have voted for someone that they believe will “keep Quebec in its place” by which they mean inside Canada.

Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications to Stephen Harper, also writing in the Globe and Mail, says: “bon voyage Lisa Raitt, Kellie Leitch, Deepak Obhrai and Brad Trost, whose 44 years of combined parliamentary service should have prepared them for the French fact. That it didn’t eliminates them from consideration… [and The-Loop_Kevin-OLeary-Taxes_960that] … brings us to Kevin O’Leary, whose bravery was summed up by his campaign’s anonymous leak that he would declare for the leadership the day after the French language debate. Mr. O’Leary, you won’t be surprised to hear, has little to no facility in French. His candidacy should be dismissed out of hand.

Mastering French,” Mr MacDougall goes on, “is about the language, and Quebec’s unique place in our federation, but it’s also a test of seriousness. That any candidate for the most important job in the country thinks he or she can show up without it tells you how little they care for the place they aspire to run. Or its history … [and] …  Our national battles over language and Quebec’s sovereignty might feel over, but having a prime minister who can muster his or her arguments in both official languages is a small and easy way to ensure they don’t restart … [further] … Stephen Harper, a latecomer to the French language, understood this fact, which is why, despite winning a majority without significant support in Quebec, he continued to begin each engagement in French, to apparent effect. Quebec was the only place Conservatives gained seats in the Trudeau landslide. It was also where the party was able to draw “star” candidates such as Gérard Deltell, and Pascale Déry, the debate’s moderator .. [and] … The road back to power,” he says, echoing my point, above, “has to begin somewhere. If Justin Trudeau is to be unseated, it must come with the assistance of Quebec. There are too many seats for it to go unloved.

All those things that most Conservatives want to do ~ about finance and taxes, about foreign and defence policy, about trade and investment, about first nations and pipelines and health care, and, and, and ~ can be done only IF we gain those 170 seats in the House of Commons. Who leads us matters. And it matters if they are bilingual … or not.

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