Swift and angry backlash against D’Arcy McGee MNA’s vote for Bonjour-Hi resolution

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By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban Jun 12, 2019

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum voted along with fellow Quebec Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the governing CAQ in encouraging Montreal merchants to drop the “Hi” in the now-traditional Bonjour-Hi greeting.

Be sure to read below: In my opinion

The vote, proposed by the PQ, came in advance of Grand Prix weekend, when numerous tourists, including many who do not speak French, visit Montreal.

Liberal MNAs Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley were not present for the symbolic vote. Weil told the media she stayed away after receiving numerous complaints from constituents after voting for the same motion in 2017.

Birnbaum provided an extensive explanation for his vote on Facebook. The MNA said the wording of the resolution was acceptable to him, and it passed unanimously in terms of all MNAs present in the Assembly.

“Here is why I chose to rise for the vote….verrrry slowly,” he wrote. “English-speaking Quebecers, whether they live in Snowdon, Sillery or Sherbrooke, have a stake in supporting the protection and promotion of the French language. We are allies, not enemies in that cause— it’s time that this be recognized by all parties, as it is by ours.”

Birnbaum also contended that the CAQ government “has failed to take the slightest concrete measure to truly strengthen the place of French in Quebec — by increasing spending, as our government did, on francisation programs for new immigrants, by supporting English school boards in their constant efforts to improve French-second language programs (the CAQ plans to abolish the board), and in calling for the inclusion of all Quebecers in the legitimate and necessary effort of French-language promotion.”

There was much reaction to Birnbaum’s vote.

Harold Staviss, who with CSL councillor Ruth Kovac has been lobbying businesses to put up bilingual signs and send out bilingual communications to consumers, was very displeased.

“Do our MNAs have nothing better to do?” he wrote on Facebook. “What a joke! Three cheers and kudos to Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley for standing up for those that elected them. At least two Liberals stood up for their constituents. But with all due respect to David Birnbaum and Jennifer Maccarone, you let us down big time. I urge you all to show both David and Jennifer your total disgust for what they did. E-mail them, call them, use social media.”

Kovac herself sent a note to Birnbaum, which she shared with The Suburban, announcing that she is withdrawing her Quebec Liberal Party membership as well as her seat on the D’Arcy McGee riding association.

“We have discussed this issue on more than one occasion,” she added. “As an MNA, in my opinion, you are elected by the people and responsible first to them, irrespective of parliamentary duties. The 2017 backlash should have guided your vote this time. This vote was a resolution, not legislation! It is the English and multi- ethnic population that elected you, not a small Francophone town in a rural area.”

Kovac also wrote that Bill 101 and the OQLF “have never been about promoting French, but pushing for a slow and painful death of anything English.

“Having worked in different businesses before becoming a councillor, we know that it is the language of the customer that is paramount. This was an opportunity where you could have easily risen slowly or quickly with true vigour and represented D’Arcy McGee.

“I suspect that I speak for many.”

Former Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen responded to Birnbaum on Facebook

“To be inclusive, forward looking and positive… sure,” he wrote. “To respect, promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversations between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.”

CSL council regular Toby Shulman wrote: “I am calling my MNA. He has lost my vote.”

joel@thesuburban.com

More:

In my opinion:

While I an upset about the motion in the National Assembly, I don’t believe that David Birnbaum’s ‘reluctant’ vote in favour makes him unworthy as a representative of the English-speaking community, as expressed by some others. Now I’m no apologist for anyone, however politics isn’t a zero sum game. I believe in measuring a leader by the overall good he or she does for the community. I’m really not pleased with David’s decision to vote in favour of this resolution. I would have preferred that he cast a vote against, as difficult as that would have been for him. It would have sent a much stronger message than rising slowly, in my opinion. But, one cannot erase the many good choices David has made as our MNA. So I do think anyone who’s upset should let him know. It is only through these many contacts that any MNA can better represent us on the next resolution. Too often people are quick to criticize on single issues, disregarding a history of achievement.

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French-only warning signs dangerous: Letter to the editor

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Published in the Montreal Gazette, March 16, 2018
These French-only warning signs are actually dangerous for highway motorists not proficient in the French language. When approaching these massive electronic billboards and not immediately recognizing ominous words like “cahouteuse” or “aquaplanage” Without mastery of French you wouldn’t know whether to pull off the road or to call 911 for an urgent translation! I’ve made numerous demands for bilingual warnings and their inaction speaks volumes, in any language. They don’t care if you don’t understand.
Glenn J. Nashen
Cote Saint-Luc

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In reference to:

Opinion: Meaning of Quebec highway signs should be clear to all

A year after National Assembly petition, provincial government still has not responded to safety concerns.

Bilingual traffic sign petition concludes with nearly 7,000 signatures

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The petition calling on the Quebec government to install bilingual traffic safety signs, as allowed by the province’s language law, ended March 2 with close to 7,000 signatures.

According to the petition page on the National Assembly website, 6,938 people signed online, and 46 people signed a paper petition, adding up to at least 6,984 names.

There was an apparent discrepancy as late on the night of March 2, the petition page listed 6,979 signatures. We were told by MNA David Birnbaum’s office that 41 were removed because of duplicates.

The petition, which will be presented in the National Assembly March 14, was created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac, and sponsored by Birnbaum. Kovac and Staviss will be in the National Assembly as the petition will be presented.

Staviss and Kovac were pleased with the support shown for bilingual traffic signs, including electronic signs which provide safety alerts such as smog warnings, accidents on highways and other advisories.

Staviss thanked Birnbaum and his bureau chief Elisabeth Prass for their support and guidance.

“One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that safety should be more important than language,” Staviss added. “Unfortunately in the province of Quebec, the protection of the French language far outweighs everything, even safety.

“The Charter of the French Language clearly states that for reasons of health or public safety, the French inscription on traffic signs may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists,” he pointed out. “All we are asking for is what the Charter of the French language allows. Having signage dealing with health or public safety, in both French and English, is definitely not going to diminish or threaten the French language in any manner whatsoever. The time to be safer, courteous and more welcoming is now. Since Ontario has bilingual traffic signage, so should Quebec.”

Kovac said the majority Liberal government should “take a bold step and override the OQLF stranglehold on signage .

“Whereas various levels of government are also advertising in English only, inviting Americans to celebrate our different birthdays (Montreal’s and Canada’s), it makes sense that getting here be safer and clearer,” she added. “It no way diminishes the French language. It’s about time we recognize that we live in a global community. I am hopeful that MNAs from across Quebec will look at this through a 2017 lens and recognize the benefits of bilingual signage.”

Adding English would make us all safer

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Free Press, Letters, Feb. 14, 2017

As we all know, all traffic signs on Quebec highways are solely in French. When driving, do you know what «Respectez les feux de voies», «Risque d’aquaplanage», «Dégel», «Ralentir», «Allumez vos phares», «Voie cahoteuse» and «Incident voie droite bloquée» mean?

Are you aware that according to the Charter of the French Language, the French inscription on traffic signs may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists? Seeing that the aforementioned phrases have to deal with one’s safety, why are they not in English as well, as the charter clearly provides?

It absolutely makes no sense whatsoever that the protection of the French language is more important than one’s safety. Shouldn’t the safety of everyone, whether French speaking or English speaking, be of prime importance? That is precisely why Ruth Kovac and I presented a petition to the provincial legislature through our legislator David Birnbaum.

Time is running out. The deadline of March 2 to sign the petition is fast approaching.

If you have already signed the petition, we thank you. If you have not signed, please do so. However, in all instances, please make sure that you share this with your family, friends, acquaintances, neighbours and your neighbours’ friends. Share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The petition can be found at: www.assnat.qc.ca/en/exprimez-votre-opinion/petition/Petition-6407/index.html.

Numbers do speak volumes and volumes can bring about change. The petition has nothing to do with language; it has everything to do with safety.

Ruth Kovac, Côte St. Luc

Harold Staviss, Hampstead

SAAQ motorist-bicycle safety site only in French

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A new Quebec government website advises motorists what measures they should take to safely share the road with cyclists.

However, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec website respectonsnosdistances.gouv.qc.ca/is only in French. As The Suburban reported recently, Quebec’s language law generally allows for bilingualism where safety is involved, and numerous Quebec government websites have information in English.

The site points out the rules of the road for motorists, such as a driver being able to pass a cyclist on the same lane as long as the driver reduces his or her speed, and stays the required distance away from the cyclist.

The French-only status of the site was pointed out to us by Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen, who has called for other municipal and provincial-related websites to contain English content as well.

Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss, who has lobbied with Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac for more bilingualism from businesses and government in areas with significant anglophone populations, wrote to D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum about the website and a recent French-only June 29 communiqué, also about safety on the road between drivers and cyclists, as well as an announcement of tougher punishments for drivers who open doors on passing cyclists.

Birnbaum told The Suburban Monday he was not able to convince Transports Quebec to issue an English version of the June 29 communiqué, and expressed his disappointment.

Birnbaum added that he was only made aware of Staviss’s objection to the new website Monday, and was not able to comment yet.

We have contacted Transports Quebec, and await their response.

Source: SAAQ motorist-bicycle safety site only in French | City News | thesuburban.com

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In my opinion: Thanks to MNA David Birnbaum and his trusty Chief of Staff, Elisabeth Prass. They wasted no time following up on my email to them wherein I expressed concern and dismay that the Quebec Transport Department did not seem to think this very important safety message was important to convey to the English-speaking community. The oppressive language laws do indeed permit public safety messages to be carried in a language other than French. Transport officials should be more in line with Premier Couillard’s election message to the English-speaking community that we are not the enemy and our language does not diminish the French language.

Language rights contrarians miss the point

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By Joel Goldenberg

The Suburban

The longstanding and very successful campaign by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac, along with activist Murray Levine and Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen, to ensure anglophone Montrealers are treated with respect has garnered a lot of support. So have recent previous battles against the Payette Plan and Bill 14 led by this paper, it editor Beryl Wajsman and organizations like CRITIQ.
Staviss, Kovac and their cohorts are all lobbying companies and government institutions who deal with communities that have significant or majority anglophone populations to provide services in English as well as French, all in conformity with Quebec’s language laws.
The successes have included Subway, the Montreal fire department’s website; Westmount in changing their unilingual French parking signs (however slowly), Costco, Second Cup, Cineplex, Toys R Us, Winners, and McDonald’s. The website providing information on the Turcot reconstruction was also bilingualized, after we revealed that it was French-only and thanks to lobbying by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum.
Those who are campaigning for respect have pretty modest goals. None are calling for the repealing of Bill 101, which would be a political scalding and burnt potato —at the very least— in this province.
And yet, judging by some reactions I’ve heard on radio, and seen on social media in reaction to the campaign in general, and most recently Levine’s lobbying for Westmount to be repaid, with interest, for the OQLF’s “error” in forcing Westmount to unilingualize their parking signs 20 years ago for $30,000, the negative consensus reactions seem to be:
“Learn French” or, to paraphrase others, “don’t rock the boat.”
And this is from some anglophones and allophones. Some seem infected with the same political correctness of the so-called anglo “lamb lobby” of 20 years ago, who fretted about francophone press reaction to any quest for rights. Others are self-proclaimed protectors of the French fact in Quebec. Another group is the younger “hipper than thou” crowd who were in diapers when the hard fought battles to ensure language rights were taken to the Supreme Court, and even the United Nations.
They all miss the point, from several kilometres away. Yes, even the most unilingual of Montrealers knows that “stationnement” means parking, “Lundi” means “Monday” and “poulet” means “chicken.”
But when stores or provincial government institutions dealing with residents in areas like Côte St. Luc, Westmount, Hampstead, Montreal West, and even the the non-officially bilingual NDG and St. Laurent, do so only in French, it’s a huge insult and makes absolutely no sense. (Thankfully, the latter two boroughs do provide many services in English.)
Propose offering service and signage in French only to Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West council, and prepare to be laughed out of the room.
And it’s not even that easy for some cities to be officially recognized as bilingual. At the time of the mergers in the early 2000s, the PQ government changed the rules. Instead of the language most used by residents, the criteria became mother tongue. This prevented the Côte des Neiges-NDG borough from having the possibility of being designated bilingual.
I remember when it was pointed out at the time, on several occasions, that someone like CJAD host Tommy Schnurmacher, who was born in Hungary, would not be recognized as anglophone for the purposes of a city’s bilingualism designation. One of many absurdities we experience here.
And yet, there are some out there who are utterly dismissive of even the most modest attempts at ensuring the rights of anglophones.
Learn French? What about learning respect and the meaning of principle?
joel@thesuburban.com

Language control sends a dangerous message

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Traffic control-centre brought up to speed, Gazette, September 2, 2015

Letter to the editor, Montreal Gazette

While Transport Quebec is investing $11 million in upgrading technology to ensure safety on the highways, one million English-speaking Quebecers and many more visitors should be very concerned that absolutely no attention is being given to inform highway users of safety concerns in their own language.

The fact that the Quebec Transport Department has installed massive electronic safety panels in the first place speaks to the need to inform motorists of serious issues ahead. The very nature of these messages is to alert, to warn, to safeguard motorists and passengers.

That Quebec would expressly restrict such messages to French only speaks volumes of its intolerance of the English language and its disregard of English-speaking people, be they Quebecers or from elsewhere. This is totally unacceptable especially since Bill 101 allows for the use of English when it comes to public safety.

Traffic isn’t the only thing Quebec is controlling in this high-tech centre. Language is being tightly controlled as well and this sends a dangerous message.

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