What are we selling, part 12

I’d like to make a point on the Self Sufficiency Action Plan. I supposed there will be many of these going forward. Anyway, my little Internet stalker doesn’t much care for French. That combined with the seemingly disinterest in leveraging our bilingual skill leads me to this post.

First off, I know that New Brunswick duality of language can be an area of stress. Some Anglophones have concerns as do many Francophones. I am following the debate now in the United States and many respectable intellectuals argue that having more than one language is problematic in a culture and community. I don’t even claim to have the intellectual capacity nor the expertise to debate this issue. All I know is that New Brunswick has made bilingualism a priority. The province (rightly in my opinion) legislatively and formally believes the Acadian people, culture and language is an integral part of our past and future.

So, there will naturally be an economic dimension to this – both good and bad. This will impose a higher cost to society in the areas of translation, education and possibly the lost opportunity cost of unilingual folks leaving the province.

But there is a flipside. Namely, our bilingualism should be a key strength and open up significant economic opportunity.

Depersonalize this for a minute. If the state of Idaho went out and spent the next 20 years and $5 billion to teach every Idahoan Chinese, that would be an incredible advantage for that state. They would have an increased ability to attract investment and trade, provide translation and content localization services, develop software and other media products in Chinese, etc.

Now leave Idaho and come to New Brunswick where we have made that level of investment in the promotion of French and English in our province. We have more than 1/3 of our people that claim to speak both French and English. So, we have leveraged this into serious economic development opportunities, right?

Wrong. Nova Scotia has attracted more French investment. Manitoba has attracted more French entrepreneurs. Alberta has attracted more French immigrants. And as for industry, Quebec has something like 91% of the translation business in Canada. New Brunswick has 2%. One survey has only 1 in 5 call centre workers is now bilingual.

That brings me to the self-sufficiency action plan. No mention of trying to leverage our bilingualism for economic development.

We should be a global leader in French language online learning for skills development in French North Africa. We should be developing French language versions of popular English language software and games. We should be a translation hub for the public and private sectors. We should be providing national technical support for the country’s IT firms. We should be a global centre of excellence in language translation and localization.