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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National Assembly again urges merchants to drop use of “Bonjour-Hi” | Montreal Gazette

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Montreal Gazette, June 7, 2019 – I have great respect for my MNA, David Birnbaum, and I believe he is doing an excellent job in representing our riding. However, we differ in approach on this thorny subject.

In responding to Birnbaum’s explanation for his cautious support of the non-binding resolution in the National Assembly today, posted to Facebook, I wrote:  

To be Inclusive, forward-looking and positive? Sure. To respect promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversation 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.

Prodding Hydro Quebec to Tweet in English pays off

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After a few years of continuous urging, Hydro Quebec has finally decided to respect its English-speaking customers by Tweeting in English.

Previously, the public utility would only Tweet in English when they deemed the message to be an emergency and even then they required reminders or requests to do so. Information about power outages, general information and power saving tips, promotions and other info is now available on Twitter at @hydro_customer.

I had written to Hydro Quebec on occasion (search my blog for more about this) about the fact that they only Tweet out their power failure and other public messages in French only. This seemed totally counterproductive to me. There is hardly a good reason for a critical infrastructure public utility to restrict their messaging to French only. They could easily have created two Twitter feeds, in both languages, from the outset. Their response to me was that they only Tweet out emergencies in English. Di satisfied, I pursued this matter until they finally created their English Twitter feed.

Despite this step forward in providing information to customers in English, questions about your bill, electricity use or services will only be responded to from Mon. to Fri. (8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.) & on weekends (9 a.m.-5 p.m) on Hydro’s French Twitter feed @client_hydro.

Hydro also has an excellent mobile app to report and monitor power outages and useful tools on its website, all available in English.

The assistance of D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum and his tireless Chief of Staff Elisabeth Prass was instrumental in advocating with the minister and bureaucrats in Quebec City on behalf of constituents. They take this responsibility very seriously and on behalf of my constituents I wish to express my gratitude to them both.

Also of importance is the continuing coverage of language related issues brought to the attention of the public by local reporter Joel Goldenberg in the Suburban Newspaper. Joel’s reporting of language rights and the reluctance of certain city and provincial departments, as well as private companies, to show proper respect to English-speaking Quebecers as well as other Canadians and tourists has been very helpful.

Joel has been reporting on the exemplary work of Cote Saint-Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss in their relentless pursuit of respect for English-speaking Quebecers. I hope Joel continues to demonstrate local journalistic advocacy which is proving to be beneficial, one step at a time.

Now this is  call to all you Twitterers out there. There are only 150 followers on Hydro’s Twitter feed as of this date. Please click @hydro_customer now and follow them. Let’s see how quickly we can double this number. And let all of your followers know as well and we’ll increase it even more and send a message to the utility that this was a necessary and positive initiative.

So thank you Hydro Quebec for doing what was right and sensible. Their positive actions should shine as an example to be followed by other agencies and departments. Merci beaucoup.

 

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2016-09-14-hydro-tweet

 

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.

QCGN says language minorities require separate rights support program

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Equality rights are of real importance to Canadian society, but language rights are fundamentally different and the two streams within the Court Challenges Program should be independent of each other, the Quebec Community Groups Network told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights studying the government’s pledge to reinstate the program.

“Courts play a central part in protecting and advancing linguistic rights, a process that invariably pits governments against Canada’s official language minorities,” commented Marlene Jennings, who appeared with the QCGN to represent Quebec’s English-speaking minority community.

“Our community has a long association with the Court Challenges Program, which was key in upholding and advancing the language rights of English-speaking Quebecers; particularly in the 1980s when we fought for freedom of expression in Ford,” said Jennings referring to the case where the Supreme Court ruled that English was allowed on signs as long as French was predominant.

“The Court Challenges program was also instrumental in funding cases that defined the scope of minority language educational rights after the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982,” recounted Jennings, who noted that the protection and advancement of these rights remains a very real and continuing need in the face of legislation like the much maligned educational reforms sought by the Government of Quebec.

Opinion: Bill 86’s school board reforms are no threat to the anglophone community

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Opinion: Why Côte-St-Luc city council opposes Quebec’s school board reform

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More from Mitchell Brownstein, Special to Montreal Gazette

In print: December 16, 2015

Monday night, Côte-St-Luc city council passed a resolution opposing Bill 86, the Quebec government’s plan to change how school boards are governed.

While this law would affect both French and English boards, it is a particular affront to the English-speaking community.

Bill 86 would eliminate the election of school board commissioners by members of the community, and replace them with councils that either would not be elected at all, or, could have a minority of community-elected councillors — if 15 per cent of parents request elections.

English-language school boards are the only level of government that the English-speaking community has an absolute right to control and manage. English-language education is a minority right that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is one of the few ways in which the English community can express its voice and ensure its vibrant future in Quebec. Section 23 of the Charter confers upon the minority English-language community the right to manage and control its educational institutions. Such management and control is exercised through the election process. The community’s designation of its own representatives to direct its educational facilities ensures the flourishing of our language and our unique culture as Anglo-Québécois.

Our fundamental rights are entrenched in the Charter in order for their inviolability to be enshrined with the utmost protection the law can offer. Constitutional guarantees are designed to protect Quebec’s English-speaking minority rights regardless of the views of the members of the majority language group.

Passage of Bill 86 will be a decision of the National Assembly, where only a small minority of MNAs are members of the English-speaking minority. This means the French-speaking majority of the members will be making fundamental decisions related to constitutionally protected English school boards against the will of the elected commissioners and without having properly consulted our community.

Education Minister François Blais claims that the reforms offer a greater say to parents. However the reforms completely lock out anyone who is not a parent of children in the school system or employee of the school system from being part of the process. Why are grandparents, future parents and every other community member — all of us having a vested interest in our schools — left out?

It is the antithesis of democracy and appears to be suspiciously like the health reforms, where previously elected health board administrators or hospital directors lost power to people named by the minister. Does anyone imagine a future Parti Québécois government will be appointing people to these functions in the health and now educational sector that will please the English-speaking community?

The entire process is extremely dangerous.

Our municipality has a large population of English-speaking residents, many of whom attend, have attended or have children or grandchildren who attend English-language public schools. Our city council strongly opposes these reforms and supports the election of school board commissioners by members of the community, not only parents, for fixed terms.

As elected municipal councillors, it is our duty to speak out in order to protect our minority groups in the same way as our council has presented Canadian Unity resolutions in the 1990s, led the fight to maintain our municipality’s bilingual status, opposed the Charter of Values and supported other initiatives affecting the minority groups that we represent.

Our council will not stand idly by and allow this injustice to occur, and encourages other municipalities and the community at large to speak up and be heard so that we can ensure a strong, vibrant future for the English-speaking community in Quebec.

Municipalities are administrative bodies that understand that grassroots involvement is essential for our institutions’ prosperity. We are therefore requesting that all municipalities in Quebec adopt a similar stance and that our resolution be sent to the minister of Education, Higher Education and Research and the member of the National Assembly for D’Arcy McGee, the premier of Quebec, the member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the Canadian Minister of Heritage.

Mitchell Brownstein is a Côte-St-Luc city councillor and attorney.

 

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