Vic Toews has reason to feel insulted

I wonder if Pablo Rodriguez and Jean-Claude D’Amours have any idea how many English-speaking Canadians pride themselves on being strong supporters of French in Canada even though they haven’t mastered the language?

The two Liberal MPs tag-teamed an assault on Treasury Board President Vic Toews yesterday at a House committee, challenging him on his suitability for his cabinet post because he doesn’t speak French. “Don’t you think,” Rodriguez said to Toews at a House committee, ”someone who has responsibility such as yours should be bilingual?”

D’Amours suggested that because Toews has some responsibility for bilingualism in the public service, he “should be a bilingual person to better be able to serve the people.”

A quick online search turns up evidence supporting Toews’ angry rejoinder that he’s long been a staunch supporter of minority language rights, particularly since there’s a sizeable French-speaking minority in his rural Manitoba riding.

Back when he was Manitoba’s justice minister in the late nineties, he was briefly embroiled in controversy when he pushed for more French-speaking judges on the provincial bench. More recently, as federal justice minister in 2006, he advocated Criminal Code amendments to makes sure anybody charged with a crime is properly informed of his or her right to be heard by a judge and jury that speaks the official language the accused is most comfortable with. And there’s some more mundane stuff about Toews helping send federal money toward franco-Manitoban businesses, but you get the picture.

So I don’t find any evidence that in his political life Toews has fallen short when it comes to backing bilingualism. But what will really resonate for many unilingual Canadian parents (like, for example, me) who read about this nasty committee clash is Toews’s wounded reference afterward to his pride that his daughter learned French in an immersion school.

Overall, there’s nothing on his bio to suggest he lacks a personal appreciation for the value of bilingualism or a political grasp of the need to take practical steps to support it. If there’s something lacking in the way he’s handling that part of his Treasury Board file, then the Liberals should stick to questioning his actions as a minister and leave his language skills out of it.

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