Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What's More Important in Quebec: Fluency or the Flu?

In a province with a shortage of trained medical people, do you tell such a trained person that he or she can't work because he or she can't write in the official language of the government?

In Quebec, apparently, the answer is "yes":

"MONTREAL (CP) - Two nurses at an English hospital have had their licences revoked after failing a written French test even though Quebec faces a nursing shortage.

"Elizabeth Davantes, 47, and Eulin Gumbs, 43, who both speak French, say they'll look for work outside Quebec after losing their jobs recently at the Jewish General Hospital.

"Quebec's language watchdog and the provincial nursing federation require that all nurses, even those in English hospitals, pass a written French test."

Note that the nurses failed a written grammar test, not a spoken one; the nurses had no problems speaking in French. Also they were working in an English hospital serving a primarily Anglophone population.

But because Quebec's bureaucracy (not just the Office de la langue française, but the Order of Nurses) has decided that nurses have to know French grammar, regardless of their mother tongue, professional qualification or population served, the Jewish General is losing two people they can ill afford to lose.

Is it fair? I don't think so, but then again I'm not a Quebecker. I do think, though, that if Quebec insists on upholding a language requirement for nurses, they'll be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to recruitment. Can they really afford to disqualify nursing graduates from Canada and the States -- because they can't tell the difference between participe passé and pluparfait?