Ottawa should not be officially bilingual. It shouldn’t be officially unilingual, either.

There is a movement (again) to make Ottawa officially bilingual. The arguments are about the same as they always are: we need to ensure services for French-speaking citizens, we’re Canada’s capital, it’s an embarrassment, we need to encourage businesses to be bilingual, etc.

The mayor doesn’t support this, noting that we have relatively few concerns in terms of French-language service (on average, 50 complaints are made a year regarding language issues). However, there are complaints and it is likely that not all issues are officially lodged with city hall. City council candidate Marc Aubin notes that there are a number of translation issues for city signage and press releases.

Ensuring proper service for French-speaking residents is important. If a significant number of issues are occurring, Ottawa should address them (well, they should address all issues, but if there aren’t a lot of concerns, ad hoc solutions may suffice). But unless you can clearly explain how official bilingualism will solve these problems, this isn’t an argument in favour of such a policy.

The rest of the arguments are far sillier. There is no conceivable way that our language policy could be an international embarrassment. The rest of the world is not going to care if Ottawa is officially bilingual. Those travelling here might notice if we are functionally bilingual, but those are completely different things.

It is ridiculous to suggest that the city of Ottawa needs to be bilingual for the sake of the nation. The point of being a bilingual nation is to recognize the two*founding communities of Canada, not to force particular languages onto Canadian communities. I understand that a lot of people (even those who live here) view Ottawa as little more than the home of Parliament, but we are actually a much richer community than that. Defining Ottawa solely by the fact that elected and non-elected gas bags spend a lot of time here is to completely diminish what this city is.

As usual, we have provincial and federal politicians stepping into the issue. People who don’t live here consider it their business to pronounce on the municipal goings-on. It’s rather unseemly. Our politicians don’t see us citizens or members of a community, but as props for national or international public relations.

Thankfully, the Conservatives are actually pretty good on this matter:

The Citizen approached the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Shelly Glover, on the issue. A spokesman for the minister, Mike Storeshaw, said that “it falls entirely within the jurisdiction of individual municipalities to decide whether to become officially bilingual.

“It would not be appropriate for the federal government to intervene in those decisions,” he said.

Ottawa does not need to be officially bilingual. We don’t need to have an official language at all. We shouldn’t have an official language. The services that Ottawa provides its residents should reflect the needs of residents. We should provide services in whatever language they–we–need.

*Yes, this isn’t accurate, but let’s not go down that road right now.

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