Columnist calls out media hypocrisy over Ontario French services cuts

La Presse's Patrick Lagacé thinks Toronto-based columnists should pay more attention to the "one-two punch" that Ontario's government has just delivered to Franco-Ontarians.

Patrick Lagacé says Anglophones in Ontario have been selective in their linguistic outrage

Patrick Lagacé says Ontario's English-language media should focus more on covering the province's cuts to French services. (CBC)
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Transcript

La Presse's Patrick Lagacé thinks Toronto-based columnists should pay more attention to the "one-two punch" that Ontario's government has just delivered to Franco-Ontarians. 

Last week, Ontario's Progressive Conservatives announced they were cancelling a plan to build a French-language university in Toronto and abolishing the position of the French language services commissioner.

In a column called "Guys, remember Pastagate?!" Lagacé compares the English media commentary about that move to the coverage of the 2013 scandal over the Office québécois de la langue française asking a Montreal Italian restaurant to change its menu because Italian words such as "pasta" were too predominant.

Here is part of Patrick Lagacé's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Why did you write your column today in English?

I wanted the commentariat in Toronto and the Toronto press, these people who publish their opinions for a living or for hire, to understand what's going on under their very nose.

Which is how francophone's rights in Ontario are being trampled and they are not ... paying attention, and they are not showing any kind of outrage, save for Chantal Hébert in the Toronto Star. 

Quebec Premier François Legault, left, exchanges hockey jerseys with Ontario Premier Doug Ford as they meet at the provincial legislature in Toronto. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Why do you think that's hypocrisy?

Because when you do have linguistic spats in Quebec, these same newspapers, and I pointed out the Toronto Star ... the Globe and Mail, the National Post, are very keen on commenting on what is going on.

Especially when the Quebec government is perceived as the villain in the story, they will publish very passionate and pugnacious opinion pieces.

I used the Pastagate controversy from a couple of years back as an example. You found numerous pieces attacking Quebec and the Quebec government for its treatment of the anglophone minority here in these very newspapers, but these newspapers, concerning what's going on with the French university, and concerning the commissioner for Fench services in Ontario, they are missing in action. 

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives have announced cuts affecting the province's 600,000 francophones. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

But at the same time, you wrote with outrage about Pastagate. You described it as overzealous. ... I mean, come on, around the world people said this was absurd. 

Of course. I'm not saying that Pastagate was not a well-deserved black eye for Quebec and what some people call the "language police" in Quebec.

I'm just saying, these newspapers in Toronto, who dictate a big part of the political agenda, they were very keen on publishing these pieces, and rightfully so. But I'm saying right now, there is an injustice going on regarding a linguistic minority in Ontario, and they are nowhere to be found.

I wonder, though, what that's based on. [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford's cuts perhaps reflect that voters don't care, or he perceives voters won't care. And maybe the columnists, that reflects that they believe that the readers don't care. Maybe it's apathy and not hypocrisy that's behind all this.

You know, part of my intellectual and journalistic training was done in English. And I remember a very good axiom of the Anglosaxon journalism. It's "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

And in this case, the afflicted are the Franco-Ontarians. 

But maybe it is because they're reflecting the fact that the public doesn't care. 

In Quebec, you'll find a majority of people who are against reasonable accommodation. If you work in the public sector, you should not wear ... the hijab, for instance. The majority of Quebecers will find that.

Well, there's some of us in the press, who have columns, who have editorial positions, who go against this public sentiment.

I don't think journalism should be reflecting the will of the powerful. I don't think journalism should be about just reflecting what the general public thinks.

You have to go with what's right. And sometimes, an injustice is an injustice. And there's one in Ontario right now.

It's been going on for years, by the way. The suppression of francophones' rights in Ontario, in this country, is a great untold story.

Written by Imogen Birchard. Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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