This week on A Huge Waste of Taxpayer Dollars, we learn that official language commissioner Graham Fraser is investigating a formal complaint that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird doesn’t tweet equally in both of Canada’s official languages. In case the wall of English tweets has caused you to forget what the second official language is, it is French. And, according to the Official Languages Act, the federal government must provide services in both official languages.
Upon finding out about the complaint, Baird’s office was surprisingly surprised, considering he’s already been targeted on this front. In a separate investigation in 2013, Fraser required Baird to dispose of the English-only business cards he had printed. Admittedly, for anyone who is familiar with Federal laws, this is a pretty stupid idea—I guess that’s why it’s a mistake often made by politicians. And now he’s making the same mistake again. Either the man doesn’t learn or he simply ne comprend pas.
In the face of the investigation, Baird’s spokesperson, Rick Roth, said, “we are surprised that the official languages commissioner has chosen to investigate the minister’s personal Twitter account that falls outside of the scope of the act. The minister’s personal Twitter account is just that, his personal account.”
While Roth might have a fair point with the first statement, he’s treading on thin ice with the second. The Twitter account in question is @HonJohnBaird. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think “Honorable John” was Baird’s high school nickname. Even better, if you look on his Twitter page, he has a nice little seal and a banner emblazoned with the text “John Baird Ottawa West-Nepean Minister of Foreign Affairs.” That sounds pretty political to me.
A lot of what’s on Baird’s account is related to his position in the government, but that’s also his job. A Starbucks employee can tweet about their day at work without it being a company message. But what’s the line in politics? Baird’s account features tweets about the conflict in the Middle East in both English and French, which is appropriate to his position in government, but his tweets about Robin Williams’ death and Tim Hortons are English-only as befits his right to personal expression.
Let’s face it, this isn’t twenty years ago where people might have had to pick up a dictionary (the horror) and manually, painstakingly translate the 140 characters. This is 2014, the era of the internet, the era of Google. All you need is the right web browser and it will actually translate all the words for you. (I confess, this is what I do every time I have to log onto RevenueQuebec.) Click quickly enough and you don’t even need to see a single word in the language that is not your mother tongue. Hooray!
At the same time, it almost seems as though Baird is being deliberately unprofessional. If his account is that of the Honorable John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, I don’t need to see a picture of a Tim Hortons coffee, the biggest coffee house that isn’t a foreign affair in Canada (Starbucks, you can stay, you little foreign coffee you). If he’s going to be writing about politics, he should have the decency to run his remarks through Google translate first. If not, he should get a personal account to tweet his buddies and brag about his meeting famous people. His new name can be @JohnBairdLikesEnglish or @IFoiledFraser.
— John Baird (@HonJohnBaird) August 11, 2014
That is a crucial issue that everyone needs to be aware of. A big foreign affair here.
Then again, maybe this is the most brilliant PR move since Rob Ford last said something on camera. See, Baird tweeted mostly in English, but still occasionally in French so he doesn’t get in real trouble, but he maintains enough of an imbalance that someone might think to say something. Which someone did. Bingo. Now, everyone’s going to be focusing so much on the language of his tweets rather than the content, and soon he’ll be able to say just about anything. All that will matter is that the letter have the proper accents. Bon travail, Baird, bon travail.