Rosemary Barton, CBC News‘ newly-minted Chief Political Correspondent visits my issue of “How bilingual?” in an Analysis (in reality and opinion piece) which could, pretty clearly, have been written by any recent Liberal prime minister’s Director of Communications. (Maybe she’s looking for a new job given that Kate Purchase jumped ship in late December and joined Microsoft.) Ms Barton is in no doubt at all that anyone running to lead a (any?) Canadian political party must be bilingual. She does, at least, touch on the question: “Just how bilingual is bilingual enough?” but she offers no clue. Nor, predictably, I think, does she mention e.g. Jean Chrétien’s language skills, which might have given us some idea of what sort of standard she supports. She does tell us that she is bilingual but admits that she “still make mistakes,” as do I and as do many other people who have some (minimally acceptable) ability in another language, as did M Chrétien, often, when using English.
She says that Erin O’Toole is, “clearly,” in her opinion, “struggling with a strong accent and poor pronunciation.” I can understand his French, easily, and I can also understand that a few people find his accent a wee, tiny bit less than perfect. My guess is that Erin O’Toole and I sound somewhat alike. He’s certainly more fluent than I, and I find his French easy to understand, don’t you? He, almost certainly, has achieved a level of French that allows him to listen and understand and then respond in French … at least as well as Jean Chrétien does in English. Is that an unreasonable standard for Ms Barton?
I happen to agree that some level of ability to communicate in French is important for political leaders, even for Elizabeth May, but I’m not sure that perfect French must be a litmus test. I am also aware of the fact that modern technology is making it possible to have a nearly invisible device proving one with a simultaneous translation and, even, suggested words of reply … it may not be quite there, yet, but it’s not far off.
So, my question remains: how bilingual is enough? I would suggest that this is very clearly good enough. If it’s not then I would suggest that the listener is biased and is demanding more of Erin O’Toole than (s)he would of, say, Jean Chrétien because she or he, that listener, is biased against Mr O’Tolle’s politics and positions. In other words, I assert, to Rosemary Barton and others who share her view, that if Erin O’Toole is “struggling with a strong accent and poor pronunciation,” then you, the critics, are struggling with a nearly terminal case of uncritical, unthinking pro-Liberal (or maybe just knee-jerk anti-Conservative) bias.
That’s my opinion about Rosemary Barton’s fake analysis.