Bilingualism Goal ‘Probably’ Won’t Be Met: Lord

Bilingualism goal 'probably' won't be met: Lord

Kate Jaimet
CanWest News Service
Published: Wednesday, December 26, 2007

OTTAWA – Half of all Canadian high school students will “probably not” be bilingual by the year 2013 – but that's no reason to stop striving toward the goal, says the man charged with advising the federal government on bilingualism policy.

“I think it's a long shot at this moment,” said former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord. “But I think pursuing the goal of having more children graduate bilingual is a noble goal.”

Lord spoke to CanWest News Service after a whirlwind tour of the country this month. He is to report his findings and make recommendations to Josee Verner, the minister of official languages, in January.

Current Liberal leader Stephane Dion set the bilingualism goal in 2003 when he was intergovernmental affairs minister under former prime minister Jean Chretien.

But despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by provincial and federal governments on bilingual education since then, bilingualism among high school students is going down, not up, according to recently released data from Statistics Canada.

Asked why the drive toward bilingualism appears to be faltering, Lord said while he is still gathering information, he believes parents bear a front-line responsibility.

“I've always felt that the parents are responsible for the education of children, and parents decide if their children will learn one language, or two, or three,” Lord said. “The government has a role to play in education, but at the same time parents have the first responsibility.”

Lord said he will make recommendations about education in his report next month. He also said he will recommend how much money the government should spend on bilingualism policy. The action plan developed by Dion in 2003 allocated $750 million over five years to foster bilingualism, of which $381 million was earmarked for education.

Lord said his report will also weigh in on immigration. The 2003 Action Plan gave $9 million over five years to help French-language communities outside Quebec recruit francophone immigrants. But that policy has recently come under fire from the Parti Quebecois which argues that it could hurt Quebec's ability to attract French speaking immigrants from among the same, limited pool.

In the course of his consultations, Lord touched down in Halifax, Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver. He met with representatives from French and English minority communities, academics, representatives of the private and volunteer sectors and government observers.

“The people that I met are people that care deeply about Canada. They feel that bilingualism is a fundamental value of the country, and it's an asset for the country. They love both languages and these are people that are determined to make sure that we continue to build a strong future for Canada,” Lord said.

Lord said the people he met were optimistic about the survival of francophone communities outside of Quebec. This despite 2006 census results, released earlier this month, that show the number of native francophones dropping in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and across the Atlantic provinces.

Lord said that, while immigrants have brought a huge diversity of languages to the country, the idea of Canada as bilingual is not outdated.

“The country has two official languages, which means that government accepts that it will function in two official languages, English and French. In no way does that mean that it prevents people from speaking more languages, or only speaking one language,” he said.

Ottawa Citizen