The Montreal Gazette
Wednesday, June 18, 1997

OLF makes Quebec look ridiculous

by Clifford Lincoln

Economic stability and the quality of life it supports are inevitably sustained by a climate of openness and understanding among all sectors of the community. Positive relations and interaction among people, be it at social or business levels, create mutual trust and respect, which are essential ingredients of a smoothly functioning society.

Laws and regulations are there as a safety net, as a tool of last resort, when the usual climate of good will, common sense and mutual respect breaks down. Where good will and common sense exist, the heavy arm of the law is not only unnecessary but counterproductive.

These are basic realities that any type of authority knows, or should learn through experience. One institution that refuses to learn these simple truths, despite all its experience to the contrary, is the Office de la Langue Française. How much pettiness, how much off-handedness, how much silliness, and how much ridicule will it have to create before it finds out that there is another way, a better way, and more importantly, a fairer way?

The OLF's latest claim to fame in its quest toward the excellence of pettiness and ridicule is the stalking of its new prey, Micro-Bytes Logiciels. Micro-Bytes is a computer-service store in Pointe Claire, in my riding of Lac Saint-Louis. It runs two other stores, one on the South Shore, and the other in eastern Montreal, both operating totally en français, employing more than half the total staff of 100.

Micro-Bytes has committed the mortal sin of having a Web site en anglais on the Internet. The French version is about 80-per-cent ready. A Micro-Bytes executive explained to me that, far from being reluctant to use a French Web page, the firm is very keen to do so, given its large number of French-speaking clients and potential clients.

Who the Big Boss is

But the OLF cannot let common sense and a constructive delay prevail. The OLF must always show who the Big Boss is. So, invoking clause 52 of the Charter of the French Language - which legal experts argue does not even apply on two significant counts - the OLF, after the usual officious letter, moved in with a warrant dated May 29, l997, ordering Micro-Bytes to post its Web page in French within 30 days or else. A small firm does not have the resources or the time to fight Big Brother, even when it is aware that the law is on its side.

Such bullying is now standard fare for the OLF and Quebec's language gurus. After the matzoh farce, followed by the fluently bilingual senior public servant speaking French to German investors who understood none of it, now the Internet war has been declared. The one constant in each episode is the ridicule it visits upon Quebec - but to the OLF, ridicule seems to be a badge of honour.

Micro-Bytes is a small, enterprising business that is creating badly needed jobs - 100 of them. It contributes its fair share to our economy and to those essential tax revenues that sustain our social services. This at a time when investments are at an all-time low in Montreal, which now sadly ranks last in economic performance among 24 major cities recently surveyed.

Ironically, the day before The Gazette's article appeared and I spoke to Micro-Bytes, I had spent some time helping a computer technician find employment in the West Island so that his family of five can stay here, instead of having to move out. We don't need only Micro-Bytes, but many employers like it, committed to investing and creating employment here. We need them badly.

When are sanity and common sense and fairness going to prevail at the OLF instead of silliness, pettiness and harassment? When is the OLF going to realize that in attracting constant ridicule beyond our borders, it is compounding the uncertainly and instability that are steadily choking our economy, and hence the welfare of Quebecers, both French- and English-speaking, who depend on it?

When are the OLF and its Quebec City bosses going to wake up and realize that an open, tolerant and reasonable society is far more dynamic, creative, and productive than closed-mindedness, edicts, and warrants?

A pat on the back

I hope they wake up before the damage becomes a chronic condition. For goodness sake, they should give Micro-Bytes a pat on the back for soon having a French Web site and in the meantime creating 100 jobs - they would find it far more rewarding for all of us, than all their expensive warrants and quixotic wars, at our expense.

The triumph of pettiness and ridicule is not a worthy goal, it is a destructive one.

-- Clifford Lincoln is member of Parliament for Lac Saint-Louis.

Copyright © 1997 by Clifford Lincoln. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.