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For Conservative candidates who aren't fully bilingual, running to be prime minister won't be easy – CBC.ca

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It’s 2020, and it seems we’re in a place in Canadian politics again where the question of leadership is also a question of language.

Should the leader of a federal party in Canada be required to speak both of Canada’s official languages? Just how bilingual is bilingual enough? How does a candidate’s facility in both languages affect the ability to win?

Maybe we should be asking a different question: Why would anyone who doesn’t speak both languages well even bother applying for the job?

We’re talking about this now, of course, because the Conservative Party of Canada is choosing a new leader in June. The three declared candidates running to be chosen leader (and eventually, they hope, prime minister) — Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole and Marilyn Gladu — are all able to speak French with varying degrees of success. But we’d be hard-pressed to call any of them fluent.

When MacKay launched his campaign this past weekend in Nova Scotia, he read his French lines off a Teleprompter. In spite of the visual aid, he still made grammatical errors and struggled with pronunciation.

Good luck, Mr. MacKay

His efforts were rewarded with a snarky front page in Le Journal de Quebec (the headline: “Good Luck Mister!”). MacKay took no questions in either official language, so it’s hard to know how he’d handle answering them in a campaign setting. It’s fair to say, though, that French does not come easily to this son of the Maritimes.

When asked directly about his ability to speak French, MacKay told columnist John Ivison in the National Post that he knows he needs to improve, but his life since leaving federal politics in 2015 hasn’t afforded him as many opportunities to speak French.

A family lines up for the 2013 edition of the St-Jean-Baptiste parade in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/CP)

O’Toole, meanwhile, launched his campaign on Monday with two videos. In the French version, O’Toole clearly is struggling with a strong accent and poor pronunciation.

Now, some of you are asking, “So what? Where does anyone get off criticizing a politician’s language skills?”

Like a lot of Canadians, I grew up in a unilingual home — but I’ve spent my entire life pursuing fluency in French. My home province of Manitoba gave me a few advantages the candidates may not share: a broad push toward French immersion, a strong Francophone community. But learning to be comfortable in a second language isn’t something you do in childhood and then set aside. Every opportunity I had to immerse myself in the language, I took.

Bilingualism has served me well. I still make mistakes, of course. (Listen in to Radio-Canada’s Midi-Info with Michel C. Auger, who has to listen to my occasional flubs every second Friday of the month when I do a political panel.) But this isn’t about me.

It isn’t even about the candidates themselves — who may indeed speak French competently enough to communicate directly with Canadian francophones across the country.

It’s not about the politicians. It’s about the people they want to represent.

Franco-Ontarians protest cuts to French services by the Ontario government in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. (Patrick Doyle/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In 2011, according to Statistics Canada, some 7.3 million Canadians cited French as their mother tongue; even more said they speak French at home. And in 2016, the agency reported that bilingualism had increased in most provinces and territories and had reached its highest proportion ever nationally: 17.9 per cent.

The vast majority of French-speaking Canadians are, of course, living in Quebec, but there are strong pockets of francophones across the country. Canada declared French and English its official languages in 1969 — which means that every federal institution is required to offer services in both languages, if asked.

A 2016 poll commissioned by the Official Languages Commission found that a vast majority of Canadians support official bilingualism — and a full 86 per cent of Canadians think the prime minister should be bilingual.

Language and elections

So that’s the statistical argument: French is a fact of life in Canada, not just in Quebec, and Canadians expect their leaders to be fluent. But there are crass political factors at play as well.

Quebec holds 78 federal seats. That’s more than Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta combined. It’s not impossible to form a majority government without Quebec: Stephen Harper managed it in 2011 with only five MPs from the province. But doing well in Quebec makes it a lot easier.

Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe we should expect our leaders to communicate well in both official languages because it’s part of the job — not because it makes it easier to win and hold power. Choosing to represent people in public life should include working hard to understand them on their own terms, to recognize their importance as individuals and as members of a living culture. That’s leadership.

Final point: there are roughly 90 different living Indigenous languages in Canada — three out of four of them are considered endangered. Last year, in an attempt to save at least some of them, the government passed the Indigenous Languages Act. The legislation doesn’t give any Indigenous language official status, but it does allow for federal documents to be translated into Indigenous tongues and also launched a commissioner’s office tasked with trying to protect some of these endangered languages.

Think about that — ninety different languages, most of them fading away. Under the circumstances, asking our leaders to talk to us in just two languages doesn’t seem unreasonable.

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Hundreds more unmarked graves found at erstwhile Saskatchewan residential school

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An indigenous group in Saskatchewan on Thursday said it had found the unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, just weeks after a similar, smaller discovery rocked the country.

The latest discovery, the biggest to date, is a grim reminder of the years of abuse and discrimination indigenous communities have suffered in Canada even as they continue to fight for justice and better living conditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the discovery at Marieval Indian Residential School about 87 miles (140 km) from the provincial capital Regina. He told indigenous people that “the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters, adding that oral stories mentioned adults being buried at the site.

Delorme later told Reuters some of the graves belong to non-indigenous people who may have belonged to the church. He said the First Nation hopes to find the gravestones that once marked these graves, after which they may involve police.

Delorme said the church that ran the school removed the headstones.

“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene,” he said.

The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools, mostly Catholic, run on behalf of the federal government.

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. “This is just the beginning.”

OLD WOUNDS

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report that found the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide, has said a cemetery was left on the Marieval site after the school building was demolished.

The local Catholic archdiocese gave Cowessess First Nation C$70,000 ($56,813) in 2019 to help restore the site and identify unmarked graves, said spokesperson Eric Gurash. He said the archdiocese gave Cowessess all its death records for the period Catholic parties were running the school.

In a letter to Delorme on Thursday, Archbishop Don Bolen reiterated an earlier apology for the “failures and sins of Church leaders and staff” and pledged to help identify the remains.

Heather Bear, who went to Marieval as a day student in the 1970s and is also vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, recalled a small cemetery at the school but not of the size revealed on Thursday.

“You just didn’t want to be walking around alone in (the school),” she recalled. There was a “sadness that moves. And I think every residential school has that sadness looming.”

The Cowessess First Nation began a ground-penetrating radar search on June 2, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia outraged the country. Radar at Marieval found 751 “hits” as of Wednesday with a 10% margin of error, meaning at least 600 graves on the site.

The Kamloops discovery reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said in early June that he was pained by the Kamloops revelation and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.

Thursday was a difficult day, Delorme told Reuters. But he wants his young children to know “we will get the reconciliation one day with action like today.”

($1 = 1.2321 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

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Teamsters votes to fund and support Amazon workers

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The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union in the United States and Canada, said on Thursday it has voted to formalize a resolution to support and fund employees of Amazon.com Inc in their unionization efforts.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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Citigroup names new sales head for Treasury and Trade Solutions unit

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Citigroup Inc has named Steve Elms as the new sales head for the bank’s Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) unit effective immediately, according to an internal memo shared by a company spokesperson.

Elms, who will oversee the management of the global sales teams, has been involved with the bank’s TTS division for over 10 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

TTS is a division of the bank’s Institutional Clients group. The segment offers cash management and trade services and finance to multinational corporations, financial institutions and public sector organizations around the world.

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru and David Henry in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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