Fratesi says city will not be bullied.
Much has been said about Sault Ste. Marie's decision to declare itself English-only.
For optimists, an old saying may be appropriate: `There is no such thing as bad publicity.'
Certainly, the Sault got plenty of publicity this year, both in English and in French.
Now, however, Mayor Joe Fratesi is hoping that the controversy is beginning to subside.
"It certainly is not as time-consuming as it was weeks ago," he said in an early-April interview. "Has it died down? I hope so."
However, Fratesi said one incident, such as a protest march or a press conference, could stir things up again.
The language controversy was started by a Jan. 29 resolution of council declaring that English would be the official language of the city.
Although the resolution has far-reaching reverberations, Fratesi said in an interview, "It means nothing more than what it says."
English is the working language of the city and the resolution is not a slap in the face to francophones, he said, adding that people should accept the resolution for what it is.
"It does not mean that speaking French will be frowned upon or banned."
The council passed another resolution on Feb. 19 declaring that the city recognizes the contribution of French-Canadians to the city, encouraging them to "continue in the celebration of their important history, ancestry and culture as an integral part of this community's proud multicultural history."
Council also sent a letter to all municipal councils in the province explaining its original resolution.
Fratesi and council were surprised by the reaction to the city's English-only declaration. However, he stressed that council will not rescind the resolution.
The mayor pointed to a stack of blue binders containing letters to him and council on the issue. The letters from all over Canada were 90 to 95 per cent in favor of the action.
"If there is criticism out there, it's certainly not coming from the majority of Canadian people," he said.
Fratesi himself entered the national spotlight with the city's resolution, and ended up on CBC's The Journal and Midday to defend the city's stand.
However, he turned down invitations to appear on other programs such as The Fifth Estate and Canada AM.
"Ours was an issue of dollars and cents," Fratesi explained.
The city is feeling the pinch of frozen provincial grants and council is annoyed that the province has transferred the costs of court security, pay equity and the Employer Health Tax to municipalities.
The Sault is concerned that in future the province will transfer more obligations to the city under the new French Language Services Act.
The matter was compounded by public reaction to a group of francophone parents who demanded their own school. The issue is currently before the courts. The parents also called for the construction of a heritage centre.
The municipal resolution has had an economic impact on the city's convention business.
"There have been some cancellations," said Fratesi, noting that two or three small francophone conventions were cancelled. "That's like shooting yourself in the foot."
A convention of the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees was also moved out of the city, which cost the local economy about $500,000 in potential revenue.
"CUPE got involved and probably wished it hadn't," said Fratesi.
The mayor noted that the Ontario president of CUPE came to the city to see what the resolution meant, and left town satisfied.
"Somehow, someway he did an about-face when he got back to Toronto," said the mayor.
The CUPE boycott has been criticized by union members in the Sault. In fact, the 300-member Local 3 has broken its affiliation with the provincial body.
Despite the cancellations, Fratesi said the city will not be bullied.
"Sault Ste. Marie will do what is right for Sault Ste. Marie. I'm not threatened by it, nor will I be bullied by people's threats to boycott Sault Ste. Marie," he said.
If someone wants to communicate with city hall in French, attempts will be made to serve that person, said the mayor. However, he added that city hall is not set up to provide service in any language other than English.
There is only so much money, and services must be practical, he said.
Suzanne Curran, managing director of Hospitality and Travel Sault Ste. Marie, said the unilingual decision has not greatly affected 1990 convention business.
"We had 27 conventions listed on the calendar on the date of the vote, Jan. 29," she noted. By Feb. 21, that number had increased to 33 and, as of late March, it stood at 41 for the year. The 41 conventions represent 15,560 people.
"I keep trying to tell the media that, but nobody listens," she said.
As far as Curran knows, CUPE was the only organization which cancelled.
Jim Rudack, president and chief executive officer of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, said the potential investors he has spoken with consider the controversy "one hell of a big joke."
In particular, Rudack noted that Americans think that Mayor Fratesi had "a lot of guts."
PAUL BICKFORD Staff Writer
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|Title Annotation:||Focus on Sault Ste. Marie; Sault Ste. Marie mayor Joe Fratesi steadfast on English-only declaration|
|Publication:||Northern Ontario Business|
|Date:||May 1, 1990|
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