Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lingua franca

Most of the work we do at Acart is either for governments, national associations, or regional audiences. So we are very much used to both the rules and the sensitivities around Canada's bilingualism.

For example, with creative copy you never use the word "translate". If a concept is developed in English, then a francophone Copywriter or Creative Director needs to be involved at early stages to ensure that the message can work in a different but equal French language version.

Unlike large consumer clients, ours are either not allowed or can't afford to do unique creative for French and English Canada. So we do our best to go beyond specifics of wordplay and cultural in-jokes to reach more universal Canadian touchpoints.

It's not ideal, but at least we try. And after all these years of trying to reconcile the two solitudes in advertising, it was a little shocking to see the Government of Quebec dismissing other French Canadians.

This was in today's Globe and Mail:

French-speaking residents of Ontario said they were insulted and angry when they received English-only advertising brochures promoting snowmobiling in Quebec. The brochures, sent to 145,000 households in Ontario, vaunt Quebec's snowy trails as "A Ride Worth the Drive."

Some francophones in Ontario, home to the largest community of French Canadians outside Quebec, say they would rather stay home instead.

They said they were incredulous that the government of a province whose official language is French would mail out English-only advertising to the more than half-million francophones who live next door.

"What were they thinking?" asked Mariette Carrier-Fraser, president of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario. "We would have thought that a province that's a majority francophone would want to maintain links with other francophones in the country."

What were they thinking indeed? This little language flap gives an interesting insight into Canadian language politics, and one which I'm sure is familiar to my Franco Ontarian friends and neighbours.

Everyone's told and re-told stories of French Canadians getting a hard time in France, but I grew up also hearing stories of Les Ontariens who were as French as toast being berated and snubbed for their dialect when they wandered too far away from the other side of the Ottawa River. I've witnessed situations where a Quebecker "corrected" the French of an Ontario francophone — to their face.

On the other side, during the last referendum I still recall a spokesperson for Maritime Acadians talking about what a raw deal Quebec separation would be for them, but that Quebec didn't care about francophone communities in the rest of Canada.

The CBC coverage quoted Tourisme Québec citing "budgetary constraints" as the reason for the snub:

"We made the choice to produce this ad campaign for markets in New England and Ontario, where the majority of people are anglophone," said Michel-André Roy, communications director for the Ministry of Tourism in Quebec.

If this is a common attitude, then it's sad. Since the Trudeau years, Canada has made bilingualism a national agenda. Not everyone has been happy with it, but regardless the Federal Government and many national advertisers have been ignoring the kind of "budgetary constraint" that Tourisme Québec finds so important, instead going along with laws and programs that support minority language rights on the national stage.

Again from the Globe:

Jean-Marie Leduc, a retired federal civil servant, complained to the Quebec government after he received the English-only pamphlets last week.

"I get advertising in French from Canadian Tire and Loblaws, why can't the Quebec government do the same thing?" Mr. Leduc asked in an interview from his home in Ottawa. "They're not respecting my language."

"This is an insult. To not recognize there are francophones outside Quebec is just an insult," Mr. Leduc said.

I'd love to hear from francophone readers — Quebec and otherwise — about their thoughts on this issue. Are Quebec's fights for language rights only for Quebeckers? Has it all really been about protecting the culture of an island of French in a sea of English — or myopic nationalism?


  1. Hello, my name is Patrick and I was born in Quebec. When I moved to Ontario at age 6, I became a Franco-Ontarian.

    This is not opinion, but indeed fact: these complaints are issued by people who have nothing better to do with their time than looking for something to complain about. Their past-times also include sending mail to CRTC when they see a nipple before 10pm.

  2. Hello Tom!

    I would have to agree with the previous comment. From here, it seems like a "tempête dans un verre d'eau" (a storm in a mug? here is a good case of bad translation). I wonder if they would have receive direct mailing from NovaScotia in english only, if they would have been as upset. I unfortunately sometimes think that the all bilingual Canada legacy from the Trudeau era has left us with tasks that consume too much energy, paper, and time. If we could all agree on the notion that Canada is an english base language nation and that Quebec a french base language nation, I think it would simplify life to a lot of people and all save us a lot of time.
    Regardless, I will always appreciate an anglophone's effort to communicate with me in french!

    Cheers (as they they say here in Australia)


  3. Oh boy, Tom. This is a really touchy one.

    Yes it may not be sensitive that a Quebec government campaign would forget to include Francophones outside Quebec as a target. However, Quebec is fighting its own battles. They are not representing all French Canadians. They are fighting to stay alive and recognized as Québécois. That's more than enough to keep them very busy for a long time.

  4. Thanks for the comments! I was hoping to provoke some discussion on this.

    I realize that language politics are much more sensitive from the Quebec side of things. At the same time, as a sympathetic anglo I find the lack of solidarity among French Canadians puzzling.

    I guess the closest parallel to Quebec in English Canada is Newfoundland nationalism. But because they're still part of the majority language group it's a limited one.