Quebec, Ink — Smarten up, Malavoy

Political columnist Peter Wheeland weighs in on the PQ’s proposed plan to pull mandatory English classes from French-language first- and second-grade classes and this summer’s surprising local tourism numbers.

Tourist season downtown. Photo by Tracey Lindeman

Are there any decent parents out there who don’t want their children to speak several languages? I mean, really, the thought that a parent would deliberately limit his or her child to a single language is, to me, a form of child abuse. It’s like refusing to let your child learn math, or art, or history. It’s a surefire way to cut off your child’s options for the future.

So it’s doubly disturbing that this idea is coming from a woman who is charged with the most critical years of our children’s educations: Quebec education minister Marie Malavoy. Last week, she announced that the Parti Québécois wanted to eliminate obligatory English classes in grades one and two for students in French-language schools. Why? Because “mon parti est très critique par rapport à l’idée d’introduire une langue étrangère alors que l’on commence à maîtriser les concepts, la grammaire, la syntaxe et le vocabulaire de sa langue maternelle.”

To translate: the kids are too stupid to handle learning two languages at a time. Okay, that’s a pretty loose translation, but hey, I only learned French late in life. If I had learned it as a child — as study after study has demonstrated is the best time to learn languages — I might be a better translator.

Like anything else in life, the relationship between age and language learning isn’t as simple as all that. The relative benefits of starting young, “with appropriate teaching and a sufficient amount of time each week,” can be debated, says one study — but that study concludes that it’s only harmful when it’s done poorly. On the other hand, exposing youngsters to “foreign” languages, as Malavoy so subtly put it, can improve their performances in dozen of other areas, including the learning of their mother tongue.

Unfortunately, this latest policy proposal from the PQ is just more evidence that the party’s main concern is not that all Quebecers be able to speak French, but that fewer and fewer Québécois be able to speak English.

Tant pis pour vous, mes amis.

* * *

Montreal has just had its best summer for tourism in a decade, according to the Tourism ministry. The number of hotel rooms booked was up 130,000 over the average of the past 10 years, and prices rose an average of $10 a room compared to last summer.

The news contradicts attempts by various media and pundits to blame student tuition protests for harming tourism. Evidence of any economic impact cited in various news reports had been mostly anecdotal until now. Even The Gazette’s Jay Bryan was forced to admit this month that “it would take a lot of research to say with precision how much of this distress (a reported 9.5 per cent drop in Quebec tourism jobs) is linked to the demonstrations and how much might be from other causes.”

And now it turns out that even the “distress” was anecdotal, at least as far as Montreal hotel bookings are concerned.

Reports of student violence during the demonstrations have been blamed for scaring away tourists. Even if that were true — that significant numbers of tourists had been frightened by news reports — it’s the news organizations themselves that are often to blame for the worst scare tactic. Here are two examples:

• On a local CTV news broadcast aired May 24, the station’s report on the impact of protests included footage of a police van on fire. Great image of violence, but, unfortunately, the students weren’t responsible. It was an accidental electrical fire, something police themselves went to great pains to make clear at the time.

• On June 4, Global TV aired a report on student protests which included file footage of an overturned police car with masked protesters dancing on the vehicle. Again, nice visuals, but this time they got the wrong protest. The footage was from an unrelated anti-police protest on March 15. Sure, there were probably a few students in the crowd, but there were plenty of students at the Stanley Cup riots, too. Should we just throw in any protest footage? Why not the Vancouver hockey riots of G20 protests in Toronto?

I don’t watch television news often enough to tell you if this type of misrepresentation of student protests occurred frequently, but I do know that these are the kind of images that make national and international newscasts.

You know, the ones tourists watch.

* * *

An afterthought on Marie Malavoy, who has told anglophone reporters that although she speaks English, she refuses to use it: an education minister refusing to use the products of her learning is a little like a finance minister refusing to use math. It makes you look petty, madame la ministre, and makes you a piss-poor role model for the public education system.

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

Leave a Reply