The Battle Over
Bilingualism, Russell Doern, Cambridge Publishers, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1985,
Russell Doern has
written another disturbing book. His first effort, Wednesdays are Cabinet Days (see
Autumn 1982 issue of this magazine) was a personal account of his career in the
cabinet of Ed Schreyer of Manitoba. He came tantalizing close to explaining how
a pragmatic, cautious, unpretentious individual like Ed Schreyer acquired a
reputation as a charismatic leader but Mr. Doern always digressed into
personalities or non sequitors such as the hub bub over the visit of John
Lennon and Yoko Ono.
This book is
disturbing for some of the same reasons but also because it indicates the
potential for zugswang (a chess term to describe a situation were a player
cannot make a move without worsening his position)in our political
institutions. It is also a classic case of individual conscience conflicting
with party disciple with the usual traumatic results for everyone involved.
The story goes
back to 1890 when the Manitoba legislature abolished the use of French in the
courts and legislatures of that province although these rights had been
guaranteed at the time the province joined Confederation in 1870. In 1976 an
insurance salesman in the City of St. Boniface, George Forest, challenged a
parking ticket written in English on the grounds that the 1890 law was invalid
and the ticket should have been printed in English and French. The case went
all the way to the Supreme Court which, in 1979, upheld the contention by Mr.
Forest. The provincial government led by Premier Sterling Lyon of the
Progressive Conservatives began the task of translating all statutes and
certain other official documents into French. The process was going slowly and
in 1980 Roger Bilodeau challenged a speeding ticket on grounds that the statute
on which it was based had not been translated.
This case too
headed for the Supreme Court but the federal and provincial governments tried
to work out an agreement with the Franco-Manitoban Society to avoid another
Court fight. This agreement, according to Doern, went beyond the mere
translation of statutes and would have imposed official bilingualism on all
provincial government departments. By this time the New Democratic ['arty had
replaced the Conservatives and Mr. Doern found himself in conflict with the
Premier, Attorney General and a majority of his own caucus.
The book recounts
the battle against the proposed legislation in caucus, in public meetings, in
the Winnipeg Municipal plebiscite and finally in the legislature itself. One of
the few heroes in this book, aside from Mr. Doern himself, is the Speaker of
the Assembly James Walding who, according to Mr. Doern refused to yield to
government pressure, to bend the rules which would have allowed the legislation
to get through the opposition filibuster.
The bill was
finally stopped and the matter referred to the Supreme Court which declared all
Manitoba laws invalid but deemed them temporarily valid pending an acceptable
timetable for translation.
The book concludes
with some observations on what has happened to the principal protagonists
including Mr. Doern. After twenty-three years in the NDP he resigned from the
party in June 1984 and sought re-election as an independent.
Doern writes well
and the story is fascinating although one suspects this is a rather one sided
view of the battle. It would be interesting to hear what the other principal
characters have to say about the various events. One could be more sympathetic
to the author were it not for the number of gratuitous and personal remarks
about his adversaries. Premier Howard Pawley is pictured as a
"weakling" dominated by non political advisors, particularly his
wife; Attorney General Roland Penner is pictured as an ideologue. House Leader
Andy Anstett is described as Penner's "hatchet man" playing Roy Cohn
to Penner's Joe McCarthy. Cabinet Minister Myrna Phillips is "a woman's
libber with little experience, policy or manners.
The battle over bilingualism
was obviously an emotional one for Mr. Doern. It is unfortunate, however, that
he ignored the advice of his own wife, Phylis, who counselled "stick to
the issues and avoid personalities." Mr. Doern says he recognised the
wisdom of her advice but felt he had to deal with the dastardly attacks that
were being made upon him. Perhaps his "damn the torpedoes" approach
is part and parcel of being a maverick. In any event his experience goes to
show once again that there is probably less room for mavericks in Canadian
parties anti legislatures than in most countries in the western world.