Eyewitness

January 28, 2000

Canada's bilingual ideals are crumbling under the policies of one of its provincial governments.

Ontario Conservatives have been cutting a tier of government and amalgamating municipal services by bunching cities and their suburbs into what have been dubbed megacities.

Toronto has already been through it, and elections will take place next year for a new megacity in the region of the country's capital, Ottawa.

But this planned amalgamation of 750,000 residents will give the region's 110,000 francophones a smaller minority than they have now in some of the current 11 municipalities. It will be up to the new councillors, some of whose constituents oppose bilingualism, to declare the city's bilingual status, which it enjoys now.

Quebec grants the French language legal protection, but Ontario francophones, just 5 per cent of the province, are in a more tenuous position.

Linda Cardinal, a francophone University of Ottawa political scientist who studies Quebec and Canada, was part of a government-commissioned study of how reorganisation will affect bilingual services. She says that public services for French speakers have shrunk in line with an overall reduction in public services: the services of the office of francophone affairs have been cut by 35 per cent.

What will this "post-welfare" state mean for a bilingual Canada? "In the long term, what you are seeing is a redefinition of the public sphere, where the French language will no longer have the same kind of visibility it has had for the past 30 years," says Professor Cardinal.

"How are we going to continue to provide a service that (francophones are constitutionally entitled) to in a context of reducing the public sector? For the Conservative government, the idea is minimal public service," she says.

Kenneth McRoberts, principal of the University of Toronto's bilingual Glendon College, says moves such as amalgamation endanger bilingualism.

Professor Cardinal adds: "If you downsize, you have to make sure that the axiomatic elements of our identity, such as bilingualism, are upheld."

Philip Fine Map showing language divisions in Greater Ottowa not available on this database

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