The international implications of the Office Québécoise de la Langue Francaise's (OQLF) decision to investigate the word 'pasta' on a menu of noted St. Laurent Boulevard hotspot Buonanotte are starting to be felt, and it has become a huge embarrassment for the province and its government, which should be getting used to it by now.
The Italian eatery and watering hole, long a haven for stars of cinema, sports and politics to see and be seen, was asked to make available French translations of words such as 'antipasto,' 'calamari,' and yes, 'pasta.'
The result has been mockery emanating from across the country and outside of it; even the Parti Quebecois International Relations Minister (who also happens to be the minister for relations with the anglophone community) Jean-Francois Lisée said the matter had been overblown and vowed to let thesubjectrest, but the damage has been done. Likewise, language minister Diane de Courcy called the investigation 'an excess of zeal.' It seems funny that now, once Quebec's language idiocy has been held up to the rest of the world, the PQ is backing off their French-French-French rhetoric and calling for calm.
Much like the decades-old 60 Minutes piece on Quebec's language laws, which saw novelist Mordecai Richler interviewed for a story highlighting the oppressive nature of the language charter, the province's language stormtroopers (who have a $20 million annual budget, which would also be hilarious if it weren't so awful, given the way the PQ is deeply cutting services and research funding in many places), have once more made sure we are being portrayed as backwater folk determined to quell any idea that people can live in Quebec without living the way nationalists think we ought to live.
It's not just pasta, either. The OQLF has attempted to push large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire to add French descriptors to their corporate monikers, despite the law not requiring them to do so. A legal battle – which will probably embarrass us once again – is brewing. As if Quebecers don't know that Starbucks is a 'café.'
It also represents short-sighted thinking of the highest order – and it's something the PQ has been guilty of, almost on a weekly basis since it entered power last September – and they have been forced to backtrack on almost every initiative they've attempted to enact since that time. For the PQ, though, alienating Montrealers is all part of the game plan, which will work to solidify their standing in Quebec's 'regions,' where there is political hay to be made when standing up to multicultural Montreal, which is becoming increasingly multilingual, much to the chagrin of many.
The West Island, on the other hand, seems to be bereft of such silliness, with most, if not all, West Islanders agreeing that it's better to go along to get along, and the vast majority of those who live here can, and enjoy, speaking more than one language. The emergence of the Equality Party 2.0, largely in response to the language divisiveness the PQ rode to victory, as well as the Put Back The Flag lobby group, are a small, but sure, sign that those who believe the government's setting a dangerous and unfortunate precedent and that a measured, reasoned response is necessary.
Maybe it's a new government that's necessary. It seems like this one is just not ready for prime time.