Conflicting interests at L'Actualité - Macleans.ca

Conflicting interests at L’Actualité

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Good news, English Quebecers: you have never been more attuned to Quebec’s French fact. According to Statistics Canada, which published a study on as much in 2006, nearly 70 per cent of you are fluently bilingual—up nearly three percentage points from 2001. For you young’uns, the news is even sweeter: nearly 90 per cent of you can speak la langue de Lévesque by the time you reach the age of 21. So pat yourself on the back, ladies and germs.You navigated the often fraught linguistic waters of this province and become, essentially, part of the majority.

Of course, L’Actualité isn’t nearly as sunny about your lot in its most recent issue. Written in large part by Jean-François Lisée, the poll and analysis package paints a rather harsh picture of younger Anglophones. “The future of French? Three quarters of young anglos don’t give a damn!” Lisée writes in his teaser blog post.

Our biggest finding is this: young Anglo Quebecers between the ages of 18 and 34, the next generation that is for the most part already active in society, are markedly frostier towards the French fact than older Anglophones. To the question regarding the right to work in French in larger companies, 74 per cent of young Anglos don’t give a damn about one of the most central aspects of Bill 101, never mind the simple respect of the Francophone majority.

Shucks. And it only gets worse, as the magazine helpfully points out in the survey presentation…

Young Anglophones brag on Facebook and Twitter of living very well in English only in Quebec and have zero interest in French. How did we arrive there?

…and in the hard numbers behind its CROP survey:

Three out of four young Anglophones [18-34] find it normal that Francophones should be forced to work in English. What a gift to offer Quebec’s French language charter, which turns 35 this year. We would cry.

And so on. I’ll leave it to someone more numerically inclined to take on the survey itself, which pollster and demographer Jack Jedwab did in Saturday’s Gazette. Nor is it worth debating whether L’Actualité’s editorial package is an illustration or a targeting of Quebec’s English population. The difference between illustrating and targeting is largely in the eye of the beholder, it seems. I’d only say that if your writer promotes the thing by saying that English people “don’t give a damn about the future of French,” and that its prefaced by a line like “Young Anglophones brag on Facebook and Twitter of living very well in English only in Quebec and have zero interest in French”—when your own survey says 82 per cent of Anglos say not having meaningful contact with the French language is actually undesirable—and the whole thing is literally illustrated by a worried-looking frog pondering a computer screen (see above) filled with English words, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your illustrative skills.

My main is what L’Actualité (which, like Maclean’s, is owned by Rogers Publishing) failed to acknowledge in its presentation of the findings.

That Jean-François Lisée is sovereignist in his convictions doesn’t bother me one iota. There are many sovereignist columnists in this corner of the world, just as there are ardent federalists. And there are many in between who have made a living out of hedging their bets on the subject, so the fact that Lisée is so upfront with his convictions is refreshing.

What L’Actualité failed to note in its cover story is that the person who conceived and wrote the survey questions, as well as the bulk of the editorial content, remains actively involved in Quebec politics as an advisor to the Parti Québécois. As La Presse’s Paul Journet noted in January, Lisée served as  emissary to PQ leader Pauline Marois in the PQ’s “electoral alliance” discussions with Québec Solidaire. More recently, Marois appointed Lisée to a 12-person committee devoted to, in the words of a TVA News clipping, “rendering the sovereignist option more seductive.” This last appointment cost Lisée his gig on Radio-Canada. “Jean-François Lisée involvement in a political activity is such that we have chosen to put an end to his participation on the weekly panel on Téléjournal [Rad-Can’s The National equivalent],” Rad-Can flack Marc Pichette told Le Devoir in February. “Remember that none of the [other] participants are directly engaged in politics.”

I’m not suggesting that Lisée’s work in L’Actualité is somehow tinted by his continued involvement with the Parti Québécois. Nor would I suggest that it would be in his interest to, for example, present a less-than-rosy picture of language relations to foment language strife. But L’Actualité has a duty to make clear the ongoing political involvement of its writers—particularly when the dossier involved, language and language relations, is a constant preoccupation (and notably reliable war-horse) of the political party in question. How preoccupied? One example: the PQ’s language critic, Yves-François Blanchet, refuses to answer questions in English. Coincidentally or not, the PQ has already expressed alarm at the results of L’Actualité’s survey, and plans to “rewrite Bill 101, to restore its sprit and reinforce how it is applied.” Great timing, n’est pas?

I’m sure Mr. Lisée can remove his political advisor cap and don his columnist cap without any worrisome overlap. But it must be made abundantly clear to readers that these two hats exists.

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