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Response to Chronicle Herald article on non-official languages

October 26, 2012

October 26, 2012

Dear Sir or Madam:

Re: “Kenney dismisses need to fund Gaelic, other ‘niche’ languages,” (October 25, 2012).

Your headline and story was a classic example of torqued journalism, suggesting that I had attacked a Nova Scotia government program to support Gaelic, when I was not asked about it, and was not even aware of its existence.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released a report showing massive growth in the number of non-official languages spoken in Canada as a result of immigration.  In this context, the Halifax Chronicle Herald and I had the following exchange:

Chronicle Herald: “I have one quick one on the census data that came out today, we’re seeing that a lot of other languages are growing while some very old languages such as Gaelic are dying away basically…”

Jason Kenney: “Real shame”

Chronicle Herald: “Do you think there’s a role in government to prop up some of these historic languages or do we just let them fade away?”

Jason Kenney: “When the Multiculturalism Act came in in 1988 there was actually a focus on promoting the preservation of heritage languages. But that has long since stopped because there are just so many – hundreds of languages spoken in Canada the cost of supporting their maintenance would be ridiculous. Frankly, we need to focus on linguistic integration which is the key towards cultural and social integration, and economic success in Canada. We should not be encouraging through government funding people to stay in linguistic ghettos, we should encourage their French and / or English language proficiency. I think it is up to the communities themselves to keep heritage languages alive. I know that happens. For example, I know… a big Gaeltacht festival that does Irish and Gaelic activities here in Ontario. So that’s great. That’s our multiculturalism. But that should be done on people’s own initiative, not government money.” 

It is clear that I was commenting on my responsibility as federal Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism to ensure that newcomers successfully integrate into Canadian society. A very real challenge to their integration is often an inability to communicate in one of our two official languages.  That’s why we have tripled funding to provide French or English language instruction to newcomers. It’s also why we are making language proficiency a more important factor in the selection of economic immigrants, and in the process for acquiring citizenship. 

I am a proud Irish descendant myself, and so have huge respect for efforts to keep heritage languages like Gaelic alive.  I have no objection at all to provincial or local governments supporting such programs as part of preserving important aspects of regional culture.  But at the federal level, the costs of funding the preservation of the more than 200 non-official languages spoken in Canada would be completely unaffordable, and would promote linguistic ghettoes when we must use our two official languages to ensure some degree of unity in our diversity. 

Finally, I don’t think it’s feasible at the federal level to support only “old” heritage languages, but not other non-official languages.  For well over a century several Asian languages have been spoken on our west coast, while several Eastern European languages have been spoken on the prairies.  I have actually been lobbied to make Punjabi and Cantonese official languages of Canada.  That’s why it is important for the Government of Canada to avoid privileging certain non-official languages over others, leaving linguistic diversity to civil society, and regional cultural preservation to provincial governments.

Le deagh dhùrachd – With best wishes,

 

Jason Kenney

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

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