In Iceland to drum up investment for the Plan Nord this week, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard refused to speak even a few words in French. No one is going to accuse me of being a French-language supremacist of the PQ’s ilk – I’m a fluently bilingual federalist anglophone Quebecer who might be the most proud Canadian on Earth – but I believe it is completely unacceptable for the leader of Quebec’s government to not promote his province’s French character in the international community.

If the prime minister of Canada speaks some French at every international gathering, shouldn’t the premier of Quebec be expected to at least do the same? Seems obvious to me.

Couillard’s weak defence of his refusal to speak his own mother tongue was the following (translated: Click here for the original Journal de Montréal story including the quote):

The world knows Quebec is French-speaking. The same way the whole world knows in Iceland they speak Icelandic and in Finland they speak the language of Finland, but their leaders come here and speak English.

First of all, that’s not even true. Major non-English-speaking leaders normally speak at least a few words of their native language before switching to English. But regardless of that, we are coming off 40 years of language strife in Quebec and we now live in a society, thanks to Bill 101, that features a bilingual population of modern-thinking Quebecers who have no time for Couillard’s small-minded thinking. Contrary to the premier’s attitude, speaking French is not a hindrance to Quebec, it’s an attribute. It’s something that makes us special. Of course bilingualism is also an attribute and is another aspect of our society that makes us special in North America – we have the ability to welcome investment in more than one language.

Couillard’s attitude reeks of arrogance and a misunderstanding of what it is to be Québécois. I’m not saying he should give his whole speech, half his speech, or any other percentage in French, English or otherwise. But to not have the sense – as premier, yet –  to give some remarks in French about what is special about Quebec is shameful. It’s as pathetic as a PQ leader who refuses to speak English.

Philippe Couillard is supposed to be a leader and by ignoring the French fact in Quebec, he is shirking his responsibility. We need to embrace our multilingual reality and that includes showing the world that we’re proud of our majority French-speaking society.

Shame on you, Premier Couillard.

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