OTTAWA -- All Duncan MacDonald wanted was to invite some kids to a baseball game.
He asks that I remember this, as he begins to tell his story.
“This wasn’t supposed to be about language,” he explains. “This was about having kids come out to the ball park.”
MacDonald is general manager for the Ottawa Fat Cats, Ottawa’s semi-pro baseball team.
The team plays in the Intercounty Baseball League, out at Ottawa Stadium. This will be their second year in operation.
Always looking for ways to bring more people out to the ball park, MacDonald is promoting a “school day” this year. The Ottawa 67s have a similar event, and it has proven extremely popular.
Basically, the Fat Cats offer discounted tickets to Ottawa’s various school boards. (The discount is actually ridiculous — $4 for a ticket, six for a ticket and a box lunch.)
The game is on May 24, at 11 a.m., so it is like a field trip for the kids.
The Fat Cats will also have a barbecue for teachers and parents who come out to help.
In January, the team approached Ottawa’s various school boards and asked if a flyer, advertising the event, could be distributed at their schools.
Some school boards were quick to say yes. Already, the flyers have been distributed at schools like St, Pius X, St. Peter’s and Holy Trinity.
One school board, however, was just as quick to say no — Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO).
The board representing French public schools in Eastern Ontario turned down the offer — not because it didn’t like baseball — but because the Fat Cat’s flyer, written in French, was not grammatically correct.
“I was pretty taken aback when we were turned down,” remembers MacDonald. “All I was doing was asking the board if their kids wanted to come out and see a baseball game. I didn’t think I was writing a test.”
The school board, for its part, insists it was the right thing to do, turning down the offer to attend school day at Ottawa Stadium.
“We receive about 140 requests a year to distribute advertisements through our schools,” says board spokesperson Marilyne Guèvremont. “We have an educational mandate to promote the French language.
“How can we meet that mandate if we let flyers with all sorts of mistakes be distributed at our schools?”
Duncan insists the mistakes in the flyers were minimal — a couple of missing accents for the most part — but he accepted the school board’s decision. It was, he says, their call. Better luck next year.
So he was surprised when a month later he received an e-mail from all three French school boards in Eastern Ontario, asking him for money.
Yes, after being told the baseball team wasn’t French enough for their students, the Fat Cats were now being told they were plenty good enough to fork over money or free tickets.
The e-mail came from the a group called CAPEO, a committee of the three French school boards — CEPEO as well as Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) and Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (CSDCEO) — set up to organize a banquet gala for the boards’ clerical staff.
That’s right, the request wasn’t even for money to help the students. Or the schools. The French boards wanted the Fat Cats to donate money — or free baseball tickets — for their secretaries.
“Now I’m getting a bit blown away,” says Duncan. “We’re not good enough for their kids, but we’re good enough to donate money for their secretaries?”
But it doesn’t stop there.
Intrigued by the e-mail, MacDonald wrote back and asked if he was understanding this properly. Could CAPEO send him some more information?
Which is when he received — you wouldn’t write this as fiction — the e-mail you see attached next to this column. The one that starts “Nicole transfert (sic) your –email to me” and ends with a plea for the Fat Cats to donate meeting space for next year’s banquet, as long as they have enough room “for some companies who exposed their products.”
Today, MacDonald is left scratching his head at the irony of it all. And wondering how things got so off track.
“Honestly, all we wanted to do was fill the ball park with kids” he says. “I wasn’t expecting all this language stuff.”
As for me, and although I don’t know how to translate this into French, of if there is an equivalent French expression, this story has reminded me of an old English adage.
It’s the one that has the pot calling the kettle black.