title Westview

July 25, 1988 Issue Full Text

Here are a few percentages Mr. Masse hasn't mentioned

by Ted Byfield

IF politics are, as they say, the art of compromise, well the West certainly has a bevy of artistic beauties in the House of Commons. Consider, for instance, the illustrative story of Bill C-72, Mr. Mulroney's most recent gift to Quebec, passed earlier this month with thunderous applause from all parties over the negative votes of nine Tory members. Four of these are slated for retirement, the other five for undoubted political execution at the earliest possible moment.

The purpose of this bill was to further fulfil the bilingualization of Canada in general and the Canadian government in particular. Its opponents, originally 40 but bludgeoned down to nine by the time the bill came to a vote, had an incontestable argument against it: If fluency in both languages is an essential of all senior civil service positions, then the top echelon of the civil service must of necessity come from Quebec.

This need not be the result of francophone chauvinism, but the inescapable consequence of our cultural geography. It is an incontestable fact that people raised in places like Montreal become bilingual as a matter of course, whereas people raised in the West can only learn a second language with great effort and skill, exercised from the earliest years and constantly practised. Since only one in 18 Alberta youngsters, for instance, is now registered in "immersion" courses, and half of them will drop out before they're finished, this means that 20 years hence only one Albertan in 36 will have the same opportunity at a senior federal job as virtually any person raised in Montreal. Such is the case. How do the proponents of the bill respond to it? Very simply, they do not. They murmur about "racism," and "holding Canada together?' and "the unexplored potential of French immersion," and they change the subject. With the passage of Bill C-72, the government may reflect the outlook, values and culture of one province alone, but it's a long way off, and we have an election to fight.

But is it that far off? Look at the civil service now. The francophone proportion of the population is 24.3%. (Francophone, remember, does not mean someone who can speak French. It means someone for whom French is the language used at home. Many of the French-Canadian families of the West--that of Jacqueline Picard, for instance, after whose grandfather the controversial Edmonton school was named--are now deemed anglophone. Francophone, in other words, nearly always means "from Quebec.") It follows, therefore, that a fair proportion of francophones in the federal civil service would be about one in four, or 25%. It now stands, in fact, at 28.2%. It was 21.5% in 1965. That's disproportionate but not ludicrously so. But now examine certain key areas in the public service, and a very different picture emerges.

Of deputy ministers and senior administrators the proportion is now 32% francophone. The Privy Council Office is 48.2% francophone. The Federal-Provincial Relations Office is 49.1%, the Canadian Intergovernment Secretariat a resounding 81.8%. The big-spending Department of Supply and Services, which decides whether a contract will go, say, to Montreal or Vancouver, is 41.1% francophone The Secretary of State Department, which hands out federal largesse, is 67.9%. The Public Service Commission, which chiefly decides on promotions within the civil service--will the job go to Peter Black from Winnipeg or Pierre Leblanc of Trois Rivieres?--is 60.5% francophone. And if the francophone proportion of the armed forces during the Second World War was somewhat lacking, the francophone proportion of the Department of Veterans Affairs compensates. It is 41.2% francophone

All of which raises another question. When the Department of Energy or Petro-Canada falls short of the 24.3% francophone quota, we hear much loud protest from Mr. Masse to stop hiring Calgarians and bring that francophone proportion upward. Why are we not hearing similar yowling from the ministers in these other departments to bring it downward? Where is the watchdog Commissioner of Official Languages? Why is he so much more sensitive to francophone under-representation than over-representation? Perhaps that's because the commission itself runs 74.1% francophone. Almost as bad as the Elections Canada Office which is 82.5% francophone, but better than the Supreme Court of Canada staff which are 65.3% francophone, while the court itself is 45%.

What we are unquestionably beholding over the past 20 years, in other words, is a francophone takeover of the federal civil service which Bill C-72 is designed to further. Mr. Mulroney deftly sought to avoid inflammatory controversy by quietly introducing it for passage without debate in the dying hours of last fall's session before the Christmas break. The story of how a handful of MPs stopped him with midnight telephone calls and all-night car rides back to Ottawa has been told by this magazine.

The bill was thereby forced to undergo committee hearings, and 157 witnesses served notice they wanted to testify, 47 from the western provinces. The committee in fact heard 21 (a dozen the government's own witnesses) all very much in favour, and six from private groups also supporting the bill. Of 87 witnesses opposed to the bill, the committee heard three. Of the 47 western witnesses, one was allowed to speak. (All you westerners need to do to get clout in this country, Pierre Tnideau used to say, is send government members down to Ottawa. Ho, ho, ho.)

With a few minor face-saving amendments to give the 40 Tories who had declared against it something they could talk about, the bill became law. Manitoba MP Dan McKenzie was symbolically fired from a parliamentary post for voting against it.

What does it all prove? Two things: First, the country as presently constituted is a farce. An overwhelming majority of westerners are unalterably opposed to what is taking place because they are being denied any significant role in the future government of Canada. But, as in the case of the CF-18 contract two years ago, their supposed representatives in Ottawa again prove utterly incapable of checking the influence of Quebec. Whether we are represented on the government benches or the opposition makes no difference. In the real politics of Canada, we do not matter.

Second, how did Quebec gain such power? Simply by saying unmistakably, "Change the system, or we'll get out." Saying it and meaning it. Not until we take that lesson wholly to heart have we the slightest chance of playing any significant role within this country, or the way it is governed.

Read other stories from the July 25, 1988 issue
Read more Report Classics
Write a letter to the Editor.
Subscribe to take full advantage of The Report

Copyright © 2002 United Western Communications Ltd.
All Rights Reserved.