BRETON, Raymond

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Speech

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Madame le Chancelier,
Monsieur le Recteur,
Chers collègues
Chers étudiantes et étudiants,
Chers amis

Je veux d’abord remercier le Sénat et le Bureau des gouverneurs de m’offrir le grade de Docteur de l’Université d’Ottawa. Je remercie en particulier le chancelier de l’Université, madame Huguette Labelle, le recteur, M. Gilles Patry et les autres personnes qui ont participer à cette décision. J’apprécie beaucoup l’honneur qui m’est fait aujourd’hui.

Pour quelqu’un qui a poursuivit sa carrière à  étudier les relations inter-culturelles, recevoir un doctorat honorifique de la part d’une institution qui se définit comme bilingue est une invitation à réfléchir sur les relations entre les communautés linguistiques du Canada et, en particulier, sur la possibilité de jeter des ponts entre elles.

Dans son discours d’adhésion, la Gouverneur générale du Canada, Mme Michaëlle Jean, a déclaré que sa mission serait, en partie, de réduire la distance entre les deux solitudes du pays. 

Établir un tel rapprochement n’est pas facile, étant donné le haut degré de concentration géographique des deux communautés linguistiques, la fréquence peu élevée des contacts personnels entre leurs membres qui en suit, et les résidus de conflits passés entre les deux communautés.

Then, how are bridges to be constructed in such circumstances? Within the few minutes at my disposal, I can only offer a few general reflections on the question.

The analyses of inter-group relations place much emphasis on the distribution of economic and political power and on how this affects the probability of harmony or conflict between them. This is fine, but the status dimension is also central in shaping the character of those relations. In particular, it is important that the contribution that each group makes to the society be known and recognized.

Individuals seek to achieve a positive self-image in the construction of their lives and in their social relations. One source of positive self-esteem is the status of the groups and communities to which they belong. A sense of pride emerges from belonging to a  community that has a high social standing, a standing that derives in part from the social valuation of its achievements.

Accordingly, it is critical to develop a public awareness of the contribution of each collectivity to the society as a whole. The recognition of identities and cultural distinctiveness is important, but what is more significant is the contribution made to the functioning and development of the society and its institutions. To be seen as culturally different is fine; but to be seen as making a significant difference is better. In fact, the best way to recognize and value the identity of a group is to acknowledge its economic and socio-cultural contribution to the society. This indeed establishes symbolically the overall  worth of a group and of its culture because it focuses on its social inventiveness and creativity.

This dimension of inter-cultural relations is also relevant for multiculturalism as a philosophy and policy.  Contrary to the common view that it seeks to maintain separate cultural traditions, it is the capacity to contribute to the society that is the fundamental idea of multiculturalism. Indeed, the initial 1971 federal policy stated that the government “will seek to assist all Canadian cultural groups...to develop a capacity to grow and contribute to Canada;... to overcome cultural barriers to full participation in Canadian society...and to acquire a least one of the official languages in order to become full participants in Canadian society.” Of course, critics of the policy  could argue that this focus was lost in the implementation of the policy.
 
This goes beyong a simple tolerance of the ‘other’.  It is also the opposite of the definition of a group as a burden on the larger society and its resources; the opposite of the perception of group differences in terms of ‘backward’ as opposed to ‘advanced’; of ‘traditional’ as opposed to ‘progressive’; as ‘hard-working’ as opposed to ‘demanding’. The juxtaposition of such characterizations can create impenetrable barriers between groups. For a long time, such opposite characterizations prevailed between English- and french-speaking Canadians. They have also existed – and to a large extent still exist today – in the relation between Native Peoples and other Canadians and between whites and ‘visible minorities,’ especially Blacks.
 
Les immigrants sont souvent perçus comme un fardeau pour la société, soit par rapport aux programmes sociaux, soit par rapport à l’intégrité de notre culture et de nos modes de vie. De telles perceptions ne tiennent pas compte de la contribution des immigrants à l’économie, à  la vitalité culturelle et à la santé démographique de notre société – de telles contributions étant précisément ce que cherche notre politique d’immigration. On reproche parfois à certaines catégories d’immigrants de ne pas s’intégrer assez rapidement à la société. Mais la meilleure manière de les inciter à s’intégrer est précisément de reconnaître ce qu’ils apportent de positif au pays et aux communautés dans lesquelles ils s’établissent. Une telle reconnaissance fera qu’ils seront plus susceptibles de voir le Canada come leur société.
   
The role of institutional leaders is crucial for increasing the public awareness of the contribution of the linguistic and ethno-cultural groups. Indeed, intellectuals, media and social elites, public figures of prominence, and leaders of powerful organizations have the public ear; they are perceived as having standing, prestige and authority and power. Because they have access to and frequently control the symbolic resources that are critical in the orientation the public discourse through which public perceptions, opinions and attitudes are shaped, they are central in the process of social recognition.

Les institutions qui incorporent le bilinguisme dans leur identité et leur fonctionnement -- comme c’est le cas de l’Université d’Ottawa – peuvent également jouer un rôle important à cet égard. De par leur caractère bilingue, ces institutions mettent l’accent sur les rapports entre les communautés linguistiques. Il y a là une symbolique qui reconnaît explicitement la présence des deux communautés linguistiques,  la possibilité d’échanges et de collaboration entre elles et le potentiel de chacune d’elles a contribuer au bien-être et à  l’évolution de la société. Bref, une institution bilingue est un pont entre les deux communautés linguistiques.

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