Home English speaking relations Laval MP Angelo Iacono stirs debate with comments on ‘officially bilingual’ Quebec

Laval MP Angelo Iacono stirs debate with comments on ‘officially bilingual’ Quebec

‘I believe that Quebec, and I believe that Canada, should be a bilingual country’

Alfred-Pellan Liberal MP Angelo Iacono. (Photo: Angelo Iacono, Facebook)

In a rare instance of unity, House of Commons MPs as well as National Assembly MNAs were outraged last week by comments by Alfred-Pellan backbench Liberal MP Angelo Iacono that Quebec would have a lot to gain from becoming officially bilingual, rather than having only French as an official language as is now the case.

Iacono made the comments during a meeting of the Commons’ Permanent Committee on Official Languages.

“I believe that Quebec, and I believe that Canada, should be a bilingual country, to be stronger and not just be a unilingual French-speaking province,” Iacono said.

Undoing some damage

This happened as the Liberals were trying to repair earlier damage after eastern Ontario Liberal MP Francis Drouin got into an ugly exchange in the same committee in early May with other MPs over official language status.

Among other things, Iacono related that he began his grade school education in English because, he contended, native French-speaking Quebecers felt threatened by Italians.

As well, he said that after studying political science at McGill University, he chose to study law at one of Quebec’s most identifiably French universities, Université du Québec à Montréal, where he succeeded in being integrated into Quebec’s francophone culture.

Liberals on language issues

Among those who reacted during question period in the House of Commons were Bloc MP for Manicouagan Marilène Gill. She, as well as other MPs, suggested there’s a problem within the Liberal Party when it comes to language issues.

Other MPs who also weighed in were Conservative Luc Berthold of Mégantic-L’Érable, and Marie-France Lalonde of Orléans who is a Liberal. She defended her party’s bilingualism policies in comparison to those espoused by the Conservatives.

Libman weighed in

In Montreal, Robert Libman, founder of the defunct provincial Equality Party, who writes a well-read weekly political column in The Gazette, was among the few wags to take sides with Iacono, calling a unanimous National Assembly move to censure Iacono “appalling and predictable.”

“Bilingualism can be a dirty word, only in Quebec,” he said, adding that “it is politically incorrect to dare suggest Quebec society could benefit from being anything other than an officially unilingual French society.”

Challenging the orthodoxy

As Libman noted, a motion tabled by Quebec’s French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge was supported by all party members in the assembly. They unanimously voted to “vigorously reject statements that Quebec would be stronger if it were an officially bilingual state.”

Libman contended that “it is dynamite in Quebec to challenge the political orthodoxy the province must be French only. Quebec intellectuals will argue personal bilingualism may be an asset, but when it comes to the state, French must be the only official language as a means to preserve and protect it against the tentacles of English.”

To be politically incorrect

“Putting aside the substance of that argument, it is the circling of the wagons by all parties in the National Assembly — the outrage, the demonizing of those who question the orthodoxy — that I often find troubling,” he continued, while noting that Iacono was expressing “a personal, but politically incorrect opinion.”

Libman pointed out that St-Laurent Liberal MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos “was similarly pilloried recently, even from within her own party, when she — very carefully and timidly — phrased a question seeking proof of the decline of French in Quebec.”