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October 26th 2005

Commissioner Issues Final Report Regarding Electoral Process

Fredericton, N.B. - October 26, 2005: The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Michel Carrier, Q.C., has issued his final report regarding the province?s electoral process. As prescribed by New Brunswick?s Official Languages Act, the Commissioner has submitted his report to Premier Bernard Lord and Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Annise Hollies, with copies sent to the complainants.

The Commissioner has the mandate to investigate, report on, and make recommendations with regard to compliance with the Official Languages Act. He is also responsible for promoting the advancement of both official languages in the province.

The Commissioner launched his investigation during the summer of 2003 after having received a number of complaints from New Brunswickers regarding access to services in the language of choice during the June, 2003, provincial elections. The Commissioner issued a preliminary report in December, 2003, wherein he identified several areas of non-compliance with the Official Languages Act, notably the active offer of service in both official languages, equality of access to services, the selection criteria for election officers, the selection of election officers where there is a lack of competent staff in the language concerned, communications with the offices of returning officers, the lists of potential election officers, and the obligation to publish in both official languages.

The preliminary report contained 13 recommendations. At the time, the Commissioner stated that he expected a response to his recommendations within the following three months. This period was extended following a request from the Chief Electoral Officer. The Office of the Commissioner received the Chief Electoral Officer?s reaction to the preliminary report following the May 2004 triennial elections (municipal, school, health authority elections).

Despite the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer eventually told the Commissioner that she had not reviewed his report until after the May 2004 triennial elections, it did appear to the Commissioner and his staff that the Chief Electoral Officer wanted to comply and this provided the incentive needed to continue interacting with the institution.

"At times, we must admit that there was some frustration with the pace of the process and also with what we perceived to be a lack of understanding on the part of the institution regarding the extent of its obligations under the Act," said Mr. Carrier. "However, we feel that this file has provided us, early in the life of this office, with an opportunity to better appreciate the role of an ombudsman and the need to make full use of the tools provided."

The ultimate goal of an ombudsman is not to simply file a report, but to work with the institution in order to find acceptable, viable solutions. Indeed, after many months of working with the institution, the Commissioner began to perceive changes in the manner in which the institution saw its role and responsibilities in the implementation of programs and measures to comply with the obligations in the OLA. "As well, recent developments allow us to believe that the climate or attitude of the institution?s personnel is changing. What appeared to us to be clearly a defeatist mindset in the face of a daunting task seems to be giving way to a more positive and optimistic approach," said Mr. Carrier.

The Commissioner?s final report details his office?s dealings with the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer following his December, 2003, preliminary report and the progress that has been made. He also offers two more recommendations aimed at encouraging the institution to build the strategic framework necessary to provide all New Brunswickers with equal access to the electoral apparatus in the language of their choice.

"There is still work to be done and the institution has an imposing job if it wishes to comply with all the requirements in a timely fashion," said Mr. Carrier. "Nevertheless, this investigation and the exchanges between our office and the institution have resulted in a firm commitment from the institution to bring about the changes to comply with the Act."

The Commissioner believes that if the institution lives up to its commitments and acts on his recommendations, it will be successful in providing New Brunswickers with the voting system they are entitled to under the law.

The next election will tell the tale.


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For more information or to request an interview with Michel Carrier, please contact Giselle Goguen at (506) 444-4758 or giselle.goguen@gnb.ca.