Workers Tribune No. 2
Down With Anglo-Chauvinist Attacks on Franco-Ontarians!
Five months into his term as premier of Ontario, in early November 2018, Doug Ford and his Conservatives attacked francophones, eliminating the office of the French Language Services Commissioner and axing plans for a French-language university. Under Liberals and Conservatives alike (or New Democrats), francophones have always been treated as second-class citizens in Orange Ontario. Belittled and scorned, labelled “Frenchie” and worse, they have had to wage constant struggles just to live in French. Cancelling plans to build the university for which they had fought for 40 years was one more bitter blow in the long drive to forcibly assimilate Franco-Ontarians.
Beginning with the defeat of the French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, English was imposed through repression, legal writ and economic strangulation. The cornerstone of Canadian capitalist class rule today is the subjugation of the French-speaking Québécois nation, from which flows the continuing suppression of the rights of other francophones in Canada including the Acadians, Métis and French speakers in what is now Ontario. The Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada supports the demand for a French-language university in Ontario. We oppose all privileges for English, the language of the oppressor nation, and call on the working class to mobilize in defense of Franco-Ontarians in their struggle to survive as a people. This is linked to our fight for Quebec independence, whether under capitalism or as a workers state.
Around Ontario last December 1, some 15,000 overwhelmingly francophone protesters rallied against Ford’s chauvinist attacks. The TLQC was the only avowedly socialist group present at the Toronto protest. On seeing our French-language newspaper, République ouvrière, with its call for Quebec independence and socialism, a participant commented, “I had no idea anyone in English Canada would support that.” The task of a revolutionary party in English Canada is to win workers to the understanding that championing Quebec independence and defending francophone minorities are crucial to their own liberation. Our perspective is to unleash the revolutionary potential of the national liberation struggle in the fight for a workers republic of Quebec. This would be a beacon to workers and the oppressed across the country, not least the francophones of Ontario, New Brunswick and elsewhere.
Franco-Ontarians are primarily the descendants of people who were driven from Quebec by misery and oppression in the 19th and 20th centuries, drawn by the prospect of jobs in the mines, mills and later auto factories. Thousands joined the Mine Mill union in Sudbury, for instance. Francophones remain a key component of the working class; notably CUPE’s hospital division in Ontario has 10,000 francophone members. Intense pressure to assimilate is reinforced by—and in turn reinforces—the lack of services. Access to health care in French is scarce to non-existent. Even the current meagre right to education in French has required one fight after another. As François Boileau, the now former French Language Services Commissioner, put it in a 2012 report, lack of access to higher education in French is a “slow death.”
The ruling class has a simple calculus: deny or curtail the right to an education in French and you are well on the way to getting rid of French speakers. It is not accidental that for over a century the key battles have taken place in the schools, where forced assimilation will succeed or fail. In 1912, Regulation 17 effectively outlawed French education in Ontario schools beyond the second grade. Teachers defied the ban, while mothers confronted police and blocked entrances to schools. By 1927, the regulation had become unenforceable but it was not rescinded until 1944. In cutting off an entire generation from education in their own language, Regulation 17 did incalculable harm.
Until 1968, when French schools were officially recognized in Ontario, parents had to pay for French education for their children. Today, French schools are often ill-maintained and overcrowded, including by being flooded with anglophone children because there are not enough French immersion programs to meet demand. Many are also tied to the publicly-funded Catholic system. We Marxists are for the separation of church and state, for free, secular schools and quality education for francophones and anglophones alike.
Official Bilingualism: Upholding the Dominance of English
Genuine equality of languages begins with a fight against the privileges of the oppressor language. We are against forcing the francophone minority to be educated in English. In Quebec, the federal government’s official bilingualism intentionally forces English on French speakers, which we oppose. For the same reason, we defend Quebec’s Law 101. After decades of being told to “speak white,” i.e., English, Law 101 affirmed that the Québécois people should be able to live, work, go to school, shop, get health care and everything else—in French. Immigrants in Quebec should be educated and integrated in French just as, without controversy, immigrants elsewhere in Canada seek to integrate in English. We fight for free, quality bilingual programs that include the native languages of immigrants to facilitate their integration into society.
In Quebec the reaction to Ford’s attacks was swift and furious. Not so in English Canada. As columnist Patrick Lagacé told the English Canadian media in a barbed polemic, written in English to ensure he was understood, “you don’t give a shit” (La Presse, 20 November 2018). Or, as he headlined in French, “Ils s’en fichent.” Indeed, Franco-Ontarians have stood largely alone in this battle. The Ontario Federation of Labour has built one protest after another against various Ford measures, but not when he launched his chauvinist attacks. There’s no mystery in this: the pro-capitalist union leaders thoroughly share the bourgeoisie’s Anglo-chauvinism and thus help to keep the workers chained to their exploiters. In fighting to break these chains, a class-struggle leadership of the trade unions would mobilize the social power of labour in defense of all the oppressed.
Anglo arrogance went into overdrive recently when the Quebec government announced that it would transfer three half-empty English schools in Montreal to the French system in order to accommodate 3,000 francophone students. For decades, thanks to Law 101, enrolment in Quebec’s English schools has declined and there are now over 10,000 empty desks in the system. Yet the gnashing of teeth from the anglophone Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) could be heard across Canada and its protests were quickly picked up by a sympathetic English Canadian media.
The QCGN, which is funded by the federal government, also found allies in the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario and the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau Brunswick. The three groups have signed a deal to make defense of the Official Languages Act an issue in the fall federal election. This is akin to a deal with the devil; the QCGN exists to defend Anglo privilege in Quebec and as such it is flatly counterposed to the interests of all francophones.
In Quebec, anglophones are not pressured to assimilate; English is so protected that the very use of French is undermined. Francophones in other provinces can only dream of the resources available to Quebec anglophones: three publicly-funded universities (McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s), a first-class hospital network, fully funded schools and much else. Like Franco-Ontarians, Acadians and other francophones in New Brunswick, who make up 32 percent of the population, face constant struggles against bigotry and denial of rights and services. And last November, anti-French bigot Blaine Higgs became premier with the backing of an openly racist “English only” outfit, the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick.
The Acadian and Franco-Ontarian groups allied with the QCGN because they wrongly believe that Ottawa’s official bilingualism and its offspring, multiculturalism, defend French language rights. As Le Devoir’s Robert Dutrisac put it, “the two francophone groups fall into the trap of this false symmetry which has contributed to the decline of the French fact in Canada” (15 July). Such policies have long been associated with the Liberal Party, which currently postures as a defender of French-language education in Ontario and joined some of the protests against Ford’s attacks. Their purpose has always been to thwart the national aspirations of Quebec and bolster the chauvinist and racist status quo.
The TLQC fights to forge a binational revolutionary workers party—ultimately two parties in two states. Winning English Canadian workers to the defense of francophone minorities as part of the struggle for Quebec independence would mark a political break with the “national unity” chauvinism of the bourgeoisie which NDP social democrats and labour misleaders peddle to the working class. A fight against the national oppression of the Québécois will be a powerful lever in advancing the struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist rulers and toward a socialist revolution in order to shatter the entire repressive Anglo-chauvinist framework of this country.