02/10/2015 01:12 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT

A Unilingual Foreign Affairs Minister Is a National Embarrassment


A country must understand and be loyal to its roots. One of Canada's roots is its linguistic duality. Our history gives the Government of Canada the duty to promote the double heritage of our two official languages, French and English. This double heritage belongs to all Canadians.

By appointing a unilingual Foreign Affairs Minister, Rob Nicholson, Prime Minister Harper fails to understand his role to protect this precious heritage. He also handicaps heavily our country's ability to take advantage of our linguistic duality on the world stage. In 2015, it is totally unacceptable.

Canada's linguistic duality is not only part of who we are as a country, it is a condition of our future success. We have the immense privilege as Canadians to have two official languages that hold international stature. French is an official language in 24 countries, English in 40. French and English are two of the six official languages spoken at the United Nations. The most common known language for Europeans, in addition to the mother tongue, is English followed by French.

Our two official languages are two large, beautiful and open windows that provide us access to the world. It is false to pretend our linguistic duality has isolated us in two solitudes. It would be more accurate to state that our two official languages bring us together and make us who we are as a country. They allow us to familiarize ourselves with linguistic diversity and expose us to other languages spoken at home and abroad.

In a globalized world, where communication plays such an important function, and where the economy is more and more based on knowledge and innovation, Canada must more than ever take advantage of the international stature of its two official languages. It provides us an edge on the world stage. It also increases people's mobility and access to the labour market.

By appointing Mr. Nicholson as Canada's top diplomat, the message the current government sends to the world and to Canadians is the wrong one. It dismisses the amazing strength of our linguistic duality. It diminishes Canada's status as a country proud of its diversity and official languages.

When the new Minister will travel to the next Francophonie Summit, where 80 countries will be represented, he will need to use a translator to follow the conversation in French. It will be quite an embarrassing day for our country.

Robert Asselin is Vice President, Policy and Research at Canada 2020, a progressive think tank based in Ottawa.


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