I may be proud English-speaking, eastern-hating, western Canadian, but even I will admit bilingualism is important for Canada.
Earlier this week, the millionaire reality star Kevin O’Leary announced his bid for leadership of the federal Conservative Party. This came after he released an ad campaign and petition among the conservative voter base to see if there was enough interest. O’Leary joins the likes of Kelly Leitch and Maxime Bernier who are scrambling to win leadership after Stephan Harper’s loss. O’Leary still faces a few major issues: one being a vicious denouncement from a former co-star Arlene Dickinson; the other being an inability to speak French. However, he has been inconsistent claiming it’s non-essential but now is taking French lessons. He has gone so far to emphasize that the language of jobs is more important language in Canada. This will only serve to hurt O’Leary as he heads not only into the leadership race but potentially into the 2019 federal election.
As a western Canadian, it pains me to say this but Quebec and, more importantly, the French language matters in Canada. What is the Conservative Party is saying to French Canadians by electing a leader who doesn’t speak French? While the economy is an important issue, Canada as a united country is a bigger one. Treating one of Canada’s official languages as an afterthought not only tells a large portion of the country they don’t matter but only strengthens the French-English schism. O’Leary potentially winning the Conservative leadership race sets a dangerous precedent as party leaders elected without proficiency in one of the official languages undermines the notion of bilingualism. A prime minister needs to represent all Canadians, not just the Canadians they pick and choose, in this case Anglophones. As much as a straw man argument as this is, imagine a prime minister who didn’t speak English. Western Canada, particularly Alberta, would scream foul play and demand to be represented. Somehow when you switch the roles we seem to be more accepting.
Assuming he wins the leadership race, Kevin O’Leary must campaign federally. French people vote — Quebec and New Brunswick are francophone provinces. Leaders and, to a greater extent, parties that ignores these areas only strengthens the linguistic divide maintained in Canada. These votes, while not essential to win (see Harper’s win in 2011) pose greater value as a leader to represent all of Canadians. Another issue with an O’Leary leadership is that he’ll be facing Trudeau. A young charismatic man (assuming no major scandals) who’s going up against an older white guy with questionable values. History does have a certain way of repeating itself, but with the world going the way it is, especially President Trump, I could be wrong.
Treating French as O’Leary is, will only reignite Quebec separatism. Do you want an independent Quebec? Because that’s how you get an independent Quebec.