Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

Welcomed by many Canadians, the appointment of Mary Simon as the first indigenous representative of the Crown, aroused the indignation of many Francophones for her ignorance of one of the two official languages. Two and a half years later, Radio-Canada was able to speak with her to see how her French is doing and to discuss the place given to Inuktitut.

The Governor General and the long learning of French

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Mary Simon has taken more than 184 hours of French classes since taking office as Governor General.< /p>

  • Laurence Martin (View profile)Laurence Martin

Speech synthesis, based on Artificial intelligence makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

Mary Simon likes “pineapples” on her pizza. She also likes “the snow, the sun.” And his favorite word, in French, is “Chou de Bruxelles”.

When we learn a new language, we are confined to simple expressions, to sentences that seem to come from a children's book.

My dog…is…labrador…her name is Neva, slowly states the Governor General, seated with some of her colleagues, around a large brown lacquered table, where are scattered white porcelain cups.

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A coffee chat, organized at Rideau Hall.

For our visit to Rideau Hall, Mary Simon's team organized a coffee chat, a discussion between Her Excellency, as everyone calls her here, and other employees, who are also trying to handle the language of Molière.

The Governor General participates in this type of event when she can, in addition to the courses she takes two to three times a year. week, at the end of the commitments that mark his days.

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Since his appointment in the summer of 2021 , she spent more than 184 hours learning French, lessons that cost taxpayers $27,851.

It’s Geneviève Picard, a teacher who has more than ten years of experience in francization, who speaks with her on Zoom: We are in informal conversations. She is able to talk about everyday things […], to have conversations about tastes.

She adds, about her student: Complex subjects will come gradually.

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Geneviève Picard has a dozen years teaching French.

Because the Governor General may have grown up in northern Quebec, French was not part of her daily life in her youth. With her mother and grandmother, she spoke Inuktitut. At the federal school she attended, only English was taught.

I come from Quebec. I would have really liked to have had the opportunity, as a young woman, to speak French, but I didn't have that opportunity, she told us in English in an interview.

At the start of our interview, Mary Simon tried to answer one or two questions in French, but she got nervous: I'm going to have to start again […] because I've never done that.

Languages ​​are important for everyone was one of the only sentences spoken in French during our exchange.

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Governor General Mary Simon in interview with journalist Laurence Martin at Rideau Hall.

For Ms. Simon, the last thing you master in a language is not feeling intimidated in front of others who already speak it well and overcoming the fear of making a mistake.

[French] is difficult to learn. I already speak two languages. Learning a third at my age, 76, can be very daunting, but I am truly committed to doing it.

A quote from Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada

When Mary Simon was approached to be governor general, she felt proud that an Indigenous woman was being considered for the position, but she was also honest with the search committee: I told them I didn't speak French well, but I was ready to learn it.

The rest, we know it. French speakers see this as a decline in their linguistic rights. Quebecers are turning to the Superior Court to invalidate the appointment of Mary Simon. More than 1,000 complaints were filed with the Office of the Official Languages ​​Commissioner — complaints which also discourage indigenous leaders, who find that Inuktitut is devalued in favor of French.

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The press conference organized on the occasion of the appointment of Mary Simon as governor general, in July 2021, with Justin Trudeau.

To calm the discontent, Justin Trudeau affirmed, from the start, that Mary Simon “is committed to taking lessons and learning French. »

But has the Liberal government been clear and transparent about the duration of the process?

To be comfortable and to be able to understand the nuances in a speech, it easily takes five years, recognizes teacher Geneviève Picard, who finds, despite everything, Mary Simon extremely committed to her learning of French.

The Governor General may therefore only be able to have a fluid conversation with French-speaking Canadians at the end of her mandate.

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Former Auditor General Michael Ferguson

Of course he there are exceptions. The former Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, who was unilingual English-speaking when he was appointed, wowed the gallery by presenting large portions of his report in French at a press conference, only five months after taking office.

But the process is not always so quick. Talk to Conservative MP Joël Godin: I am a unilingual French speaker who has made great efforts since 2015 to learn English.

With two hours of classes per week, he feels that he has improved and can even get by, but he does not yet feel comfortable having very nuanced conversations on subjects complex.

According to him, Justin Trudeau took a risk by appointing a governor general who did not speak French and counting on the fact that she was going to master it quickly.

The professor of French teaching at Laval University, Suzie Beaulieu, also believes that there is a gap between promises and reality.

Say ''she is going to learn French'&#x27 ;, this creates the expectation that, when we speak to her in French, she will be able to respond with confidence, ease and precision. This is what I find a little unrealistic.

A quote from Suzie Beaulieu, professor of French as a second language teaching, Université Laval

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Whether during her classes or coffee chats, the Governor General says she always has a notebook with her as a memory aid.

At Prime Minister Trudeau's office, we are told in writing that the Governor General is committed to learning French to speak it more fluently and that there are had efforts and progress.

It is also specified that Mary Simon continues to do her important work in the service of the country while continuing her efforts to learn a third language.

But for the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois, it is the nomination itself which remains problematic: It was really not after Ms. Simon that we were told in an interview by the Bloc Québécois Christine Normandin – who also welcomes the linguistic efforts of the Governor General – it is more after the Prime Minister.

From the start, this appointment should not have happened because [Ms. Simon] did not have the ability to have a fluent conversation in both languages. […] The result is that in his office, things must happen in English.

A quote from Christine Normandin, MP and deputy parliamentary leader of the Bloc Québécois

Conservative MP Joël Godin adds: Currently, bilingualism in Canada is English and French. And when Mr. Trudeau appointed the Governor General, he knew Canada's identity very well.

I-nu-sa ?
– No, i-llu-saq

At the café-jasette, under the chandelier crystal, the beautiful porcelain cups are gradually emptying and Mary Simon takes advantage of the first magical snow that envelops Rideau Hall to teach some expressions in Inuktitut to her colleagues.

Word of the moment: illusaq, a type of very compact snow. Ms. Simon explains: To…uh…construct?…build…the igloo.

The Commander-in-Chief of Canada Although she does not master one of the country's two official languages, she does not consider herself any less bilingual, because, as she often repeats in interviews, she already speaks two languages.

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Mary Simon in 1984. Much of her career has been dedicated to preserving her culture, whether as an Indigenous negotiator during the patriation of the Constitution or as chair of the National Committee on Inuit Education.

Her appointment as governor general has also sparked lively debates about the place given to indigenous languages ​​in the country. In the summer of 2021, the first Grand Chief of Kahnawake, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, argued, for example, that we perhaps needed to review what Canada's official languages ​​are, suggesting including languages ​​like 'inuktitut.

Is Mary Simon on board with this idea?

Hard to have a clear answer, as the 76-year-old, who represents the British Crown, is very cautious during our interview. She says only that such a proposal would likely require constitutional changes.

But one thing is certain for her: her mother tongue, Inuktitut, is not appreciated at its true value. I try to speak it, no matter where I go, even if I know people don't understand what I'm saying, she says.

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From 1994 to 2003, Mary Simon was Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, where she notably participated in the creation of the Arctic Council.

When asked to clarify his thoughts on the importance given to Inuktitut, his public relations team, who are watching nearby, become agitated and nervous. We are entering political territory, where governors general usually avoid venturing. The communications director intervenes: I think you got your answer.

Mary Simon continues, without hesitation: Indigenous languages ​​[…], in the last century, were not really a topic of conversation. Now we are starting to have these discussions but we want our governments […] to embrace and support indigenous languages, whether they are official or not.

We consider [Inuktitut] to be our official language, but we are very open to speaking both official languages.< /p>A quote from Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada

Obviously, it is not only French that needs more protection and recognition in the country, in the eyes of Mary Simon.

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In interviews, Mary Simon likes to mention that she has 12 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

The time allocated for the interview was spun. The Governor General has just time to tell us that she wants our next interview to be in French.

In 2024…I want to speak to French speakers.

With the collaboration of Marie Chabot-Johnson

Laurence Martin's report will be broadcast on< strong>Téléjournal with Céline Galipeauat 10 p.m., on ICI TÉLÉ.

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