Ontario not bilingual enough to train zoo animals

Chantal Hébert told graduating students at York’s Glendon College that she was thinking of writing a sequel to her 2007 book, French Kiss: Stephen Harper’s Blind Date with Quebec, and calling it, One Night Stand – but then realized it might be a very short book.

photo of Chantal Hébert speakingHébert, one of Canada’s most respected political journalists, received an honorary doctor of laws degree during York’s 2012 Spring Convocation ceremonies.

Chantal Hébert

To work in Canada is to make a great journalistic voyage, especially for those like her who get to do it in both official languages, she said. “You discover quickly that Canada is not a country that has a long history that goes back to the 1500s, and before that to the Middle Ages. We didn’t have the Greeks and Romans; that’s not our history. But we certainly are a country of many stories. And if I was a poet and I was getting this doctorate, I would read you a poem.”

She instead told a story about working on Parliament Hill when a controversy erupted over the possible closing of a Quebec military college, and how people didn’t feel Ontario could train French officers. At that same time, someone from Toronto called her about the Toronto Zoo, who said it had a new animal that didn’t speak English and they were fundraising to hire a bilingual trainer.

So Hébert, who was on her lunch break at the time, thought she’d have some fun with it and called the Granby Zoo. The woman she spoke to said all their animals were bilingual there, as they were in the Eastern Townships where it’s bilingual and they would never ship an animal that didn’t speak English to Toronto. She went on to say the animal in question came from the St. Félicien Zoo.

So Hébert called the zoo in St. Félicien and put it carefully to them that there is an animal at the Toronto Zoo that was having trouble adapting because of a language barrier. The person said she was totally right and they were aware of the problem, and encouraged the zoo to hire a bilingual trainer.

“There is something about what I do for a living that every night I go to bed less stupid than when I woke up on a good day, and this was really a good day,” said Hébert.

She wrote a column after that, saying Ontario is bilingual enough to train French officers, but it was not bilingual enough to train animals from St. Félicien.

Hébert told graduating students that learning in a bilingual environment will give them a certain take on the world, and they will know things they are not yet aware of.  She encouraged them to speak up in the future.

York’s 2012 Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Hébert’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.