Each Friday, Yahoo! Canada News asks Canadians where they stand on the important issues of the day, and our panel of experts tackle the same question.
This week we asked:
A Quebec minister says bilingualism shouldn't be a job requirement to work in Quebec, only French is necessary. Should Quebecers be required to speak English as well as French to get a job?
Thomas Bink, Yahoo! Canada News: Alright guys, I know I'll probably take the contrarian view on this, but I'm OK with the idea that some Quebecers don't need to speak English to get jobs. It really should be the employer who decides what makes the most sense. If we're talking about a small shop in Shawinigan where 99 per cent of the clientele speaks French, I don't see why a cashier would need to speak English. It's the equivalent of the same cashier in Hanna, Alberta — does he/she really need to speak French if there are no French clients? No. The shopkeeper decides what languages are required by his staff to be successful.
Andy Radia, Politics writer: The minister is correct. Bilingualism should not be requirement to get a job in Quebec just as bilingualism should not be a requirement to get a job in B.C. For decades now governments have tried to force this policy of bilingualism down our throats but the statistics clearly show that it's not working. Bilingualism should only be a requirement at Federal government offices: Anglos and Francos should be able to access government services in their language of choice. But the so-called language cops should stay out of the affairs of private businesses.
Matthew Coutts, National writer: Here's the thing, though. Legislate away the need for bilingualism all you want, but companies that rely on English will still consider it a requirement for new hires. The minister who started this debate cited examples of French-speaking job seekers who were told they'd have better luck outside of Montreal, where English wasn't as common. Those workers are still going to get short shrift in Montreal. Doing away with the need for bilingualism in Quebec is a zero-sum game. French-speaking workers will continue getting jobs that don't require English, and bilingual workers will continue getting any job they want. As long as Canada is primarily English, knowing English is the best bet for employment.
Bink: Sure, I'll agree with that. Montreal is an international city, and it makes sense for employees to speak both English and French — as well as Italian, Arabic or Tagalog if necessary. It's not too dissimilar from Toronto. I guess the question is whether that gives bilingual Quebecers an unfair advantage over French-only Quebecers? Possibly, but education is always a key differentiator in hiring, regardless of location or position. It doesn't make sense to hire a high-school dropout to be an accountant, and it doesn't make sense to hire someone who only speaks French when you've got English clients. It makes even less sense to legislate it.
Radia: I think we all agree that bilingual Quebecers are more employable. But let the 'market' decide, let businesses decide their own human resource skill-set requirements. Certainly, the education ministry and schools in Quebec — and every other province — have a role. They should offer English language training but they should also offer training in other second-languages and then let parents and students decide which one(s) to choose. In B.C., for example, where a very small percentage of people speak French, students shouldn't be 'forced' to take French classes. They should also have the option of learning Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi or Hindi.
Matthew Coutts: If this were a simple change to an employment law I might be able to get behind it. But in the Quebec language debate, everything has deeper repercussions. We have a new separatist government in the province. Reversing the need for bilingualism may sound like they are tearing down walls, but the next step is to build new ones. It is not about embracing other languages; it is about limiting a specific one. First, English isn't necessary. Next, it isn't welcome. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois recently extended an olive branch to the Anglophone community, but she is leading a minority government. The ultimate goal is still separation, which will be much simpler when English plays a vastly reduced role in the economy.
Andy Radia: Matt makes some good points. Premier Marois and the PQ make no bones about their goal of having an independent Quebec. And, any language policy they introduce will have separatist undertones. But I think in this case they are just being pragmatic. French is the predominant language in many areas of Quebec — it's been that way for over 100 years. How is maintaining that in a place like Shawinigan going to help the separatist cause any? The bottom-line is we don't legislate bilingualism for employees in other provinces and we shouldn't in Quebec. And you know what — just because a person is uni-lingual, that doesn't make them any less Canadian or less patriotic than a person who speaks both French and English.
What do you think? Share your opinions in the comments area below.