Monday, October 19, 2009

Hampstead's Unilingual Mayor

While Anglophones poke fun at Louise Harel for her lack of English and complain that it's an impediment to being an effective mayor, what can we say about William Steinberg, the last unilingually English mayor in the Province of Quebec?

The tiny town of Hampstead is nestled snugly between Cote Saint-Luc to the west and the Snowdon district of Montreal to the South and East.

The town, a bastion of rich anglos, is largely unknown amongst Francophone Montrealers and flies successfully under the radar as an Anglo foil for French radicals, whose usual target, the City of Westmount, is ironically more ethnically diverse than Hampstead. The city's only brush with French radicals was a passing mention in the famous FLQ manifesto.

The town remains one of Canada's wealthiest communities and it's mostly Jewish residents (85%) are closely aligned to the Anglo community. Even the town's Sephardic Jews, whose mother tongue is French, send their children to private English Hebrew schools.

The town's residents are highly successful and almost all are bilingual, but speaking French in Hampstead is not particularly important and certainly not relevant when it comes to civic affairs.

Town council meetings are decidedly English only affairs and for Mayor William Steinberg, it's a good thing, he doesn't speak a word of French!
It's likely that he can't even understand his own campaign literature.

No one can deny that William Steinberg, a descendant of the famous Montreal 'Steinbergs', the family that sold out it's eponymous grocery store chain for hundreds of millions of dollars isn't dedicated, he has turned the part time job into a full time obsession.

Being of independent means has it's advantages and during the last campaign Steinberg put in so much time electioneering, he claims to have rang every single doorbell of the 2500 homes in the town!

It's hard to fault him for effort, but the fact that he can't speak a word of French after living most of his life in the Province is a bit of a head scratcher.

Mr. Steinberg has blamed a hearing impediment for his inability to speak French and has been given a pass by the other candidates who don't want to be seen attacking an infirmity.

Although Mr. Steinberg is somewhat deaf, he speaks English just fine. The truth is that he has lived a sheltered life of privilege and has never bothered to learn French, simply because he never needed to. Mr Steinberg has invoked the 'infirmity' excuse as successfully as a university co-ed, claiming 'womens problems' in order to get out of a big test.

The question remains, infirmity or not, should someone who can't speak French be considered for a mayor's position in Quebec?

For Hampsteaders, the question isn't an issue and it seems that they agree with Mr. Steinberg that French is an unnecessary job requirement.

It's a bit two-faced, considering the Anglo position on Madame Harel.


  1. If I think French-speaking Mayors should speak in English, I think English-speaking Mayors should speak French as well. As I said before, it is a BILINGUAL country and everybody should (especially in Quebec) be bilingual.

  2. whatever, still makes me want to move to hampstead

  3. He has a hearing impairment and a cochlear implant. He can speak some French but had trouble mastering French because of hearing difficulties.