Media Releases

Canada marks 50 years of Official Bilingualism; Policy Still “Something to Be Proud Of”

 

VANCOUVER, June 3, 2019 — Language conflicts between anglophones and francophones have been one of the most important elements of Canadian history. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act (OLA), the federal statute that made English and French both official languages in Canada and sought to quell the ongoing conflict. So, 50 years on, what does our progress look like?

Michael MacMillan, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, says one of the main goals of the OLA was balanced representation of francophones and anglophones in public service — a goal we have successfully met. Another objective was to make federal services available to the public in both official languages, which we have also achieved.

One area where the federal government has fallen short is in getting all provinces on board with bilingualism. Another area where progress has been slower is ensuring federal public servants have the opportunity to work in their own language.

While the OLA was met with significant opposition when it was enacted in 1969, MacMillan says one of the most surprising things has been the consistent increase in support for official bilingualism over the years, especially in parts of the country where the opposition had been strongest. He notes that younger people tend to be more supportive of the policy than older people, saying “looking forward, we would project that the levels of support will continue to increase.”

Canada has been one of the most successful countries in the world at dealing with a language conflict, says MacMillan. He adds that with increased global migration, almost all major industrial nations are going to become more multilingual in the coming years, and “Canada offers one of the best examples in the world of how to do it.”

So while there is still work to be done, 50 years later, Canada’s Official Languages Act remains, as MacMillan puts it, “something to be proud of.”

Michael MacMillan’s paper, Mission Accomplished or Work in Progress?: Canada's Official Languages Act at 50 is among thousands of new pieces of research being presented this week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Canada’s largest academic gathering, Congress brings 8,000 of the country’s brightest researchers, thinkers, and policy-makers to Vancouver from June 1-7.

Congress is organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, which promotes research and teaching for the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. With a membership now comprising over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 91,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. Congress 2019 is hosted by The University of British Columbia.

The Congress 2019 media kit can be downloaded here. More information about Congress is available on their website, Twitter and Facebook.

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The views and opinions expressed by the researcher in this media release and in the paper being presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences are his own and do not reflect those of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences nor of The University of British Columbia.

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