The Fraser Institute’s first report of the new year is a strident attack on provincial bilingualism policies which attempts to count the costs of providing services to minority populations and, predictably, argues that the best solution is to “privatize” these services, meaning that either the government or, preferably, private citizens will be required to hire a private-sector translator whenever a service is provided in the “wrong” official language. Provincial spending on bilingualism, they say, “costs Canadian taxpayers… $900 million annually.”
Since it’s the Fraser Institute, you won’t be at all surprised to learn that a few corners are cut here. First of all, a large majority of this funding goes to minority-language schools which are guaranteed under the Constitution. We can’t open a debate about reforming Francophone schools without reopening the Constitution. This doesn’t appear to faze the Fraser Institute, of course. Bilingualism costs outside of the education system are actually “only” $223 million, and despite what the brief claims, it’s unclear how much cheaper they could get through privatization.
The great genius of the Fraser Institute plan, as they see it, is that Francophones and Quebec Anglophones will be required to pay for translation services in the future, if they “choose” to do business with the government in the “wrong” language. Then they add up what they claim this will cost, based on some dubious mathematical wizardry, and claim it comes out less than the headline $900 million cost. What savings!
Well, sort of. In British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, there are no significant non-educational Francophone programs, and therefore no real savings. In Manitoba, French is protected and so no savings are possible there, either. (In such cases the Institutes refers vaguely to “symbolic benefits.”) In Quebec, private provision of English services actually costs more than the public sector. So in at least eight provinces, French public services is either a non-issue or a cost savings.
That leaves us with Ontario and New Brunswick. In New Brunswick, the Fraser Institute claims there would be cost savings, but specifies in the fine print that this is only true if all people with some bilingual capacity give up on French completely, that a large number of French university students drop out of school, and that the remainder move to Quebec and go to school there (which they will somehow do for less than $6000 each). So New Brunswick doesn’t really count either.
Which leaves Ontario. Ontario’s Francophones get $122 million in non-educational benefits from the government, says the Fraser Institute, which they could purchase for themselves at $107 million. That’s it. This is the only province where there are significant cost savings associated with eliminating French services and the savings in question are piddling, to say the least. The savings go up if there’s a mass shutting down of French-speaking classes in universities, the same sort of educational holocaust the Fraser Institute wants to unleash in New Brunswick.
And it gets worse. Ontario’s “public” costs include $32 million in funding to Television Francophone en Ontario. It also includes $36 million in what the Fraser Institute calls “unobservable costs” — the costs of routine translations, duplications, etc., in two official languages. This number is arrived at by conjuring up out of thin air a sort of tax on government spending of 0.05%. So, whether or not Ontario will benefit from eliminating official bilingualism depends entirely upon whether the Fraser Institute is correct in how it is estimating “unobservable costs.”
To sum up, this proposal is of no significant financial benefit to six provinces, would raise costs in a seventh, is Constitutionally barred in two more (in one of which the private sector probably offers no savings, anyways), and might save a small amount of non-educational money in the tenth. Are we ready to go to war against Constitutionally protected minorities, now?Tweet