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THE WEIRS TIMES & THE COCHECO TIMES, Thursday, March 15, 2012


7


SPRING THAW FOR MONTREAL’S LINGUISTIC DIVIDE? MONTREAL—


by John J. Metzler Syndicated Columnist


I t ’s takes a comedian to break the ice in the often frosty linguis- tic debate in Montreal, the cosmopoli - tan Canadian city where the


French-speaking majority jeal- ously and legally holds the lin- guistic high ground. So when an Indo/Canadian immigrant Samir “Sugar Sammy” Khullar brought a hilarious comedy show in Fran- glais, a mix of French and English to audiences recently, there was an Spring thaw in attitudes--at least for a while. Perhaps someone whose par-


ents are from the Punjab, but who grew up in urban Montreal can poke fun at both the French and English communities and turn his one night act, “You’re Gonna Rire (laugh)!” a into a hilarious hit show solidly booked for a month.


La Presse, the ma-


jor French-language newspaper gushed that Sugar Sammy “per- fectly represents the Montreal of today, its multiculturalism and its bilingualism, with its strengths and paradoxes.” The English- language Montreal Gazette de- scribed the show as “a unique Montreal cultural and sociological experience.” Montreal is the second largest


French-speaking city in the world and needless to say the largest in North America. Once Canada’s commercial and banking center, Montreal over the last thirty years has been losing ground to Toronto for a number of reasons, key among them, the Quebec provin- cial government legislation which mandates French as the sole offi- cial language, as well as the sim- mering embers of Quebec political separatism from Canada. On the one hand, Montreal and


indeed Quebec’s proud French identity, has created a vibrant literature, media, arts, and cul- tural space near unrivalled in Canada. Highly subsidized but fundamentally rooted in the fact that French-speaking Quebeckers see themselves isolated in a sea of English-speaking North America, arts and entertainment offer a


vital outlet for a unique national community. Quebec formed the keystone of


New France in North America un- til the British toppled French rule in 1759 and steadily supplanted control over this part of Canada. To this day car license plates “Je Me Souviens” I remember” post a less than subtle reminder to ro- manticized history. Conversely what many in the English and business commu- nity see as linguistic chauvinism, sometimes to absurd levels, has caused a steady stream of com- merce to flee Montreal. But it’s not just traffic Stop signs which say Arret (in France they say Stop), but a wider attitude, found among the French speaking ma- jority throughout Quebec who saw themselves on the socio/ economic defensive until recent decades. Take a walk down St. James


Street (Rue St. Jacques) once Canada’s proud Wall Street and see the shuttered and closed banks; some of the biggest names now going condo, or as with the huge Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce with “A vendre” for sale signs embarrassingly in the windows. While many banks and financial institutions have often moved into more modern quarters, there’s no denying that many firms have fled since the 1970’s and the undulating ebb and flow of separatist senti- ments. In 1995, a referendum on sov- ereignty from Canada came per- ilously close with a one percent edge favoring Quebec’s staying inside the Canadian federation. According to Statistics Canada,


of the nearly two million people living in the city of Montreal, 60 percent are French speaking whereas only 20 percent are now classified as English home speak- ers. Importantly the 21 percent of “Allophones” are from immigrant groups Italians, Portuguese, Chi- nese, and South Asians. Other immigrants such as Haitians, Algerians and a vibrant Vietnam- ese community identify with the French language. As a periodic visitor to Montreal


since the 1960’s, happily today there are few of the high-octane political debates or tensions of the


past, nor any air of hostility. Most people coexist quite nicely and in both languages, even if Franglais is a linguistic fallback. Still the city celebrates its many


founding groups. The “Parade St. Patrick’s” will be held downtown. A tradition since 1824, the Mon- treal St. Patrick’s Parade is among the oldest in North America and celebrates the city’s small but still


significant Irish heritage. Sugar Sammy’s mirth to the


contrary, Montreal’s linguistic divide is not all laughs but a poi- gnant reminder of a shared but often fractious history.


John J. Metzler is a United Na-


tions correspondent covering dip- lomatic and defense issues.


IRAN AND OBAMA Wh a t a r e


by Thomas Sowell Syndicated Columnist


we to make of President Ba- rack Obama’s l atest pro - nouncements about Iran’s movement to- ward nuclear bombs? His tough talk might have had some in-


fluence on Iran a couple of years ago, when he was instead be- ing kinder and gentler with the world’s leading terrorist-spon- soring nation. Now his tough talk may only influence this year’s election -- which may be enough for Obama. The track record of Barack


Obama’s pronouncements on a wide range of issues suggests that anything he says is a mes- sage written in sand, and easily blown away by the next political


winds. Remember the “shovel- ready projects” that would spring into action and jump-start the economy, once the “stimulus” money was available? Obama himself laughed at this idea a year or so later, when it was clear to all that these projects were go- ing nowhere. Remember how his adminis- tration was going to be one with “transparency”? Yet massive spending bills were passed too fast for the Congress itself to have read them. Remember the higher ethics his administration would practice -- and yet how his own Secretary of the Treasury was appointed despite his failure to pay his taxes? If you were an Israeli, how will-


ing would you be to risk your national survival on Obama’s promise to stand by your coun- try? If you were a leader of Iran, what would you make of what See SOWELL on 28


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