Conservative MP accused of insulting francophones by asking minister to speak English

A Conservative member of Parliament from Alberta was accused of undermining bilingualism and insulting francophone Canadians after she asked a cabinet minister from Quebec to speak in English during an appearance before a parliamentary committee.

“For the Conservatives to put in question official bilingualism is absolutely reprehensible,” NDP MP Peter Julian told the committee.

“I just can’t believe how radical and extreme this party has become since the member from Carleton [Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre] took over.”

The incident unfolded during a meeting of the House of Commons heritage committee Thursday morning. Rachael Thomas, the Conservative MP for Lethbridge, asked Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, a francophone who represents the Quebec riding of Brome—Missisquoi, for an English answer to her questions.

“Minister, I noticed that you answered my questions in French, but other questions you answered in English if they’re from your Liberal colleagues. I realize it’s completely your choice, we’re a bilingual country, but if at all possible I’d love to have an English answer,” Thomas said.

That request kicked off a flurry of protests from NDP, Bloc and Liberal MPs on the committee, who accused Thomas of insulting francophones and Quebeckers.

WATCH: Alberta MP accused of insulting francophones during committee  

Alberta MP accused of insulting francophones during committee

Featured VideoAlberta MP Rachael Thomas came under fire when she asked Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge to answer questions in English during a committee hearing.

Bloc MP Martin Champoux said House of Commons committees have “highly efficient” interpreters.

“The minister has the full right to answer in whichever language she chooses. This is an insult to Quebeckers and to francophones,” he said.

Liberal MP Michael Coteau, who represents the Ontario riding of Don Valley-East, said Thomas’s request “goes against everything this country has been built on.”

“That should never happen at committee, it should never happen in the House of Commons and [it] is something that goes against our very values as Canadians,” he said.

In response, Thomas said she was not provided the “opportunity” to receive an English answer and asked again if St-Onge “would be willing to answer in English.”

Julian said that as an anglophone who learned French in school, he knows there are times when the vocabulary of one language is better than another because it allows one to “speak more easily.”

“I certainly hope that this MP will start respecting official languages and respecting this committee,” he said. 

Committee chair and Liberal MP Hedy Fry ruled that the minister is free to speak in the language of her choice.

“If the minister chooses French, fine. If the minister chooses English, fine. We cannot make her answer in whatever,” Fry said.

Thomas sends apology to committee chair

On her way into question period, St-Onge said Thomas’s comments were inappropriate and she will continue to speak in her mother tongue while executing her duties.

“I will never question one of my colleagues who wants to speak French or English,” she said. “I thought it was really inappropriate and disrespectful to French people and Quebec people.” 

Watch: St-Onge says Alberta MP’s request for answers in English was ‘inappropriate’:

St-Onge says Alberta MP’s request for answers in English was ‘inappropriate’

Featured VideoAfter she was asked to speak in English by Alberta MP Rachael Thomas, Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said the request was ‘disrespectful to French people and Quebec people.’

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet responded with a reference to a poem by Canadian writer Michèle Lalond called Speak White, about the oppression of francophones in Canada.

“It is good old Speak White: ‘I am an English Canadian therefore I am somewhat superior to you, you should speak English to me,'” Blanchet said outside the House of Commons.

“It’s a lack of respect which does not surprise anybody in Quebec any more.”

On Thursday afternoon, Thomas wrote to Fry saying that her party does support bilingualism and the “right of Canadians to communicate in the language of their choice.”

“I wanted to write to you to apologize for my request earlier today,” Thomas wrote. “I would ask that you please pass along my apologies to the Minister and to the other members of the Committee.”

Watch: Alberta MP’s request that minister speak English shows a ‘lack of respect,’ says Blanchet:

Alberta MP’s request that minister speak English shows a ‘lack of respect,’ says Blanchet

Featured VideoBloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet says the disrespect shown toward the French language and Quebec ‘doesn’t surprise anybody in Quebec anymore.’

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