Friday, 17 August 2007

Heritage Minister Verner: Just Speaking the Language Doesn't Mean You Speak the Language

Josée Verner is the new Minister of Canadian Heritage, replacing Bev Oda. Talking to some friends in the cultural community here the first positive reaction is that at least she speaks French. Bev Oda didn’t and people in the Quebec culture world found that annoying to say the least. In the round-up stories after Verner’s appointment was announced much was made of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec next year, and how the Heritage minister really should be able to greet people properly at the festivities.

But speaking a language is not the same as communicating or listening. Bev Oda speaks English, but I think you’d have to search hard for someone in the Anglophone culture world who thought she was open to dialogue. She met with practically no groups or arts spokespersons, Anglophone or Francophone, during her tenure. It’s unclear what her thoughts were on many of the dossiers, it appeared that she was only following the party line of the Harper government that culture isn’t to be taken seriously. Even the argument that cultural industries are major players in the Canadian economy didn’t seem to be understood.

So while Verner may be better able to communicate with all segments of the Canaadian cultural world than Oda was, don’t expect very much. Stephen Harper is still calling the shots, and he doesn’t seem to care.

By the way, the latest book that Yann Martel has sent the Prime Minister is Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel García Márquez, chosen, Martel says, because of Harper’s recent trip to Latin America. It was mailed a week ago Monday, so perhaps it’s too soon to expect a response—but then there hasn’t been one to any of the eight other books Martel has sent, aside from a brief note of acknowledgement for the first one.

People in the Montreal area who would like to discuss that one—The Death of Ivan Illych by Leo Tolstoy are invited to either of the two book discussions groups I lead. We’ll be discussing it in French at the Bibliothèque Robert-Bourassa in Outremont on Tuesday September 11, and in English on Wednesday, September 12, at the Atwater Library.

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