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John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
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is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 05.09.01
Fool's Hollow, Quebec

JOHN MAHONEY

Quebec's Wired Family Program

Politicians. They never fail to amaze me.

Our separatist Quebec government has just spent $170 million dollars to lure 200,000 families onto the Information Highway.

I wonder if the Pequistes realize that in cyberspace, most of the traffic signs are in English. And wherever did they find the money?

Our separatist provincial government constantly pleads poverty and humiliation, blames Ottawa for all our financial woes, and continues to download more spending responsibilities on the towns.

Yet, their stash was large enough to give each eligible family a $500 subsidy to get wired. That's the discount families received on an approved internet-ready, multi-media computer sold by a dealer registered in the Quebec Wired Family Program.

The government is also subsidizing their Internet Service Provider account to the tune of $200 a year for two years.

The catch is that to bag the subsidy, you had to be eligible to receive the family allowance. Childless taxpayers and taxpayers with adult children didn't qualify for any cyber largesse.

The other requirement was that the operating system had to be in French. That is, unless you specifically requested an English flavour of Windows or Mac OS9 or Linux.

This Wired Families Program was initiated in the Old Pequiste Regime of Lucien Bouchard. Who knows, maybe the ex-premier reckoned Wired Families would be another Winning Condition and he could hold yet another unwanted referendum on secession.

So, how has this worked out?

The cut-off date was March 31st. As the month wore on and the deadline loomed, a mad scramble ensued to get the $500 bounty. By March 26, more than 180,000 Quebec families had become subsidized surfers. Government-approved computer dealers cheered lustily.

The government had high hopes that these newly connected families would soon be enriching their minds from the vast data treasure chests on the World Wide Web.

The family that researches together, stays together, right?

However, anecdotal evidence points to a whole lot of game playing going on, and a whole lot of loud music being downloaded.

One Montreal mother summed up her kids surfing habits this way in the daily Gazette - quote unquote -- They'd be sneaking around the Web, going to sites their friends told them about.

Another new computer mom said her 13-year-old music loving teenager had become addicted..."I'm constantly telling her to quit and get off."

Oh, come on, if you're a kid what kind of a website are you going to want to visit: William Shakespeare or Britney Spears?

But I can't help but wonder if the PQ government, with its beloved language law and heavy handed bureaucratic tongue troopers, really thought this program through.

The World Wide Web is still dominated by English language web sites.

It occurs to me that our language-obsessed government is carelessly placing its French-speaking citizens in harm's way.

Look here - they're being exposed to even more English. Banner ads! News reports! Fiction! Poetry! Recipes! Streaming rants like this!

Good grief, exposure to all that English may prove to be a shortcut to bilingualism.

Perhaps the PQ government will decree that those who received subsidies will have to visit twice as many French-language sites. Or remain twice as long per page. Or install government-approved software that will automatically shrink all web pages in languages-not-French to half-screen.

Or, maybe they have secret plans to download French-only Net Nannies that will black out any site not in the official language of la belle province and substitute an animated pop-up window that warns: "touche pas!"

Meanwhile, in lovely old Quebec, we suffer a shortage of doctors and nurses and hospital beds. Sick people are warehoused in hospital hallways. Surgical patients wait for relief. And wait. And wait. Our kids don't have enough school library books.

It's now easier and safer to get on the information highway than our local roads. They're pitted with potholes and some have sinkholes that can swallow a car.

Personally, I believe getting wired is a good thing.

And perhaps this government does have its high tech heart in the right place. But, for my money, its priorities are seriously skewed.

The $170 million bucks they lavished on family computers could have hired a lot of nurses, bought a lot of books, patched a lot of cracks.

I reckon you don't have to be crazy to live in la belle province -- but it helps.

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