Right in the centre - Majoring on the minor things


Ken Waddell
The Neepawa Banner

A CBC article this week stated, “Robert-Falcon Ouellette rose in the House of Commons this week, most of his parliamentary colleagues couldn’t understand some of what the Winnipeg-Centre MP said. Not because of his arguments -- but because he was speaking Cree.” He wants all languages spoken within Canada to be recognized in parliament. There are dozens, maybe more.

Ouellette is a bright young Liberal MP from Winnipeg. He spoke a year or two ago in Neepawa at a Rotary Club meeting. People were impressed and justifiably so. In his Neepawa speech, he made some very good points about the social welfare system and offered many worthy possible solutions.
On this occasion though, he has fallen into a typical political pattern, preach to the base while real issues go unattended. There are common, unifying issues being ignored in Canada, such as community viability, clean water and very unequal health care and educational outcomes. Speaking 20, 30 or more languages in parliament is not the path to success for anyone, least of all, the various language speakers.
That the various languages can and should be spoken, preserved and celebrated is beyond question. But if a country is to thrive, there has to be a common language or two and in Canada, they are English and French. Some would argue that for legislation, for commerce and for parliament,  there should be one and that is English. Interestingly enough, if you are an airline pilot, it doesn’t matter what your mother tongue is, you speak English. It has nothing to do with arrogance, with elitism or any other slur that might be pointed towards the English language, it is just a fact of life that has developed over centuries. English can be your first language, your second or third language, but it had better be one of your languages if you are going to succeed in today’s world.
If Ouellette wants to help people, better he should concentrate on abandoning the Indian Act so individuals and communities can have more economic development. It is amazing how people major on the minor things. Thousands of people are without clean water and we waste time on issues like languages in parliament. If there was economic development, perhaps the communities could afford Indigenous educational institutions.
This whole issue was raised on a Facebook discussion and one person said, “Where’s the market? It’s hard to have ‘economic development’ 400 km north of Thunder Bay, at the end of barely navigable bush road. Communities, Indigenous or not, that are located near markets or on major transport routes do well, the further away they are from markets, the less ‘economic development’ there is. Look at the villages in Northern Ontario or the middle of Saskatchewan that are dying for want of a market for what little they produce.” 
To that I responded that the commentator was absolutely right. People in some communities will have to do what my grandfather did or what immigrants are doing today and that is move to an economically better spot. There are jobs unfilled in some centres and no jobs in others. Just as many prairie towns have disappeared, perhaps some northern communities will disappear as well.
Getting rid of the Indian Act would be a good start. Getting nearly everyone, and I mean, nearly everyone across Canada, into home ownership would be a huge step. 
The ignored, common, unifying issues in Canada stated above, such as community viability, clean water, very unequal health care  and educational outcomes should be our focus. Other issues, such as those raised by Ouellette, are important, but they are neither essential nor strategic. If there is no clean water, no community viability and continued inequities in health and education, the other issues don’t matter.