INTERVIEW

Interview with Rémi Léger, New French Cohort Program Director

07/10/20
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Rémi Léger, Political Science Professor in SFU's Faculty of Arts and Social Science, was recently appointed French Cohort Program (FCP) Director.

To highlight this appointment, the FASS Communication team met with Rémi to discuss his story, his vision of official bilingualism in Canada and the elements he thinks make the French Cohort Program unique.

Hailing from New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, professor Rémi Léger has always been deeply interested in the politics of language.

A professor in SFU’s French Cohort Program (FCP), Léger teaches political science in both English and French. The FCP provides a unique path to a bachelor’s degree for students who are interested in studying topics such as international diplomacy, Canadian politics and history, and the French language. In addition to studying theories and acquiring knowledge in these areas, students are encouraged to practise their French-language skills through hands-on community projects and bilingual job opportunities.

Léger says being bilingual is about so much more than speaking two languages; he says it’s also about having two ways of understanding the world. By providing students an avenue to study in both of Canada’s official languages, he aims to offer them a deeper and more well-rounded understanding of Canadian politics.

“The French Cohort Program in Public & International Affairs is challenging (it’s hard to do university courses in your second or third language!) but also incredibly exciting. Our graduates are bilingual in our two official languages (and often speak a third language), have a solid understanding of Canadian politics, and have a sense of Canada’s place in the world.”

On September 1, 2020 he was appointed French Cohort Program Director, and Léger says he’s excited to advocate on behalf of his students.

“Since coming to SFU in 2012, I have met and worked with several amazing students that have gone on to law school, graduate programs, the federal and provincial public services, NGO work and much more. I want to promote our program, and especially our students.”

Read more below as he shares some of his insights on the politics of language in Canada and why he’s so passionate about the French Cohort Program.

What inspired you to study the politics of language in Canada?

From a young age, I was confronted with basic questions such as “why is it that Acadians have to speak English while Anglophones don’t have to learn French?”, or “why is it that culture and language seem more important for the Acadian minority than for the Anglophone majority?” When I started university, my political science courses gave me the vocabulary and tools to start formulating answers to these questions. I came to realize that languages are political; governments make decisions that impact the value and use of languages, and language groups mobilize to convince governments to make certain decisions and avoid others. In other words, I was introduced to the politics of language, and was hooked.

How does being bilingual help people better understand the world around them?

Being bilingual is about more than language; being bilingual is to be immersed in two cultures, two worldviews. In political science, for example, the dominant Anglo-American approaches are not the same as French/Francophone approaches. On a more personal level, the English language has been dominant in my life for the past 15 years, yet it remains a second language, and I still don’t fully feel like myself in English. I think that’s because a language is actually much more than a language, each one offers a unique way of viewing and understanding the world.

You said in a recent interview with Radio-Canada that in Canada we often normalize that fact that many of our political leaders don’t speak French, despite it being one of our official languages. What do you think are the consequences of this mindset on Canadians, and on linguistic minorities in particular?

In Canada, official bilingualism is a project, a political project. In the 1960’s, the Canadian state articulated an aspirational vision for our country, what Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously called “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework”. Since then governments, with varying degrees of motivation and interest, have worked to achieve this vision. The vision was never for every Canadian to speak both languages, but rather for our political institutions to function in both French and English so that citizens could interact and be served in the official language of their choice. 50 odd years later, we have yet to achieve this vision, and in fact, it’s becoming increasingly normal to function in English because English is more or less the global lingual franca. The point is that official bilingualism was and remains a political project that requires political will and capital to implement. If we are going to achieve this vision, our political leaders, and leaders more broadly, have to speak these two languages and appreciate the cultures behind them.

Why study political science in the French Cohort Program?

I actually think that it’s difficult, perhaps impossible to study Canadian politics without some fluency in both official languages. Beyond that, SFU’s French Cohort Program in Public & International Affairs introduces students to two perspectives, two modes of doing political science: the Anglo-American mode, and the French/Francophone mode. There are obviously overlaps between these two, but there are also important differences. Students in our program come to understand and appreciate these differences, and come to see how behind each language lies a rich culture and new ways of doing things.

You can reach Rémi Léger at the following address: remi_leger@sfu.ca