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June 21st 2016

Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick tables 2015-2016 Annual Report

June 21, 2016 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Katherine d’Entremont, tabled her third annual report today. The document presents the results of an audit which sought to determine whether government departments and agencies (Part I) offer and provide services in both official languages in all regions of the province.

The in-person and telephone audits reveal relatively high rates of service delivery in both official languages at the provincial level: above 80% for service in French and above 90% for service in English. There was not a single case of failure to obtain service in English in any of the seven regions of the province. However, in four regions, there were failures in obtaining services in French, the highest failure rate being 18.2%.

“After nearly half a century of official bilingualism in New Brunswick, one might expect the delivery of bilingual services to be excellent in all respects, throughout the province. Our audit findings reveal that this is not the case,” Katherine d’Entremont said. “Although the rates of service delivery in both official languages are relatively high, there are failures in various categories, indicating that there are citizens who are not able to be served by government in the official language of their choice.”

The Commissioner emphasized that this audit was conducted with only one group of institutions with obligations under the Official Languages Act (OLA), namely, government departments and agencies (Part I). Public bodies excluded from the audit were mainly the health sector, the courts, police services, Crown corporations as well as municipalities and Regional Service Commissions with obligations under the OLA.

The audit also reveals a very low rate of active offer of service during in-person audits in offices. On average, auditors were greeted in both official languages by employees fewer than one in five times.

“In the absence of an active offer, our auditors were instructed to insist on being served in the audit language, English or French. However, citizens are not auditors, and many of them are reluctant to request service in the official language of their choice if they are greeted only in the other language. Failure to make a verbal active offer will often result in services being provided in the language chosen by the employee rather than in the language that would have been chosen by the citizen.”

Katherine d’Entremont noted that the active offer of service became mandatory when the new OLA was adopted in 2002. “By making the active offer mandatory, legislators wanted to change the dynamics of service delivery. Citizens would no longer have the burden of requesting services in their language; it would be up to the government to offer them a choice.”

To ensure the delivery of quality bilingual services throughout the province, Katherine d’Entremont recommends that the government conduct an in-depth review of its OLA implementation plan, published in July 2015.

“Since 2013, the OLA has required the government to have a plan to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act,” Katherine d’Entremont said. “The Act specifies the objectives and measures that the plan must include. In the context of an investigation, we closely examined the various measures contained in the Plan and concluded that many of them are insufficient to achieve the objectives set out in the OLA. We therefore concluded that important elements of the Plan do not comply with the Act and recommend that government make a number of changes to the Plan.”

During the presentation before the Standing Committee on Procedure, Privileges and Legislative Officers, Commissioner d’Entremont noted that the government has still not acted on fundamental recommendations she made over the past two years. These include recommendations made further to the study on the recruitment of bilingual staff and second-language training for public servants.

“It is doubtful that government could fully comply with the OLA if it does not implement our recommendations,” the Commissioner said. "If it continues along such a path, citizens may have to apply to the courts to have their language rights respected, which would be very costly for the Province. However, legislators created the position of Commissioner of Official Languages precisely to avoid this type of situation. The Commissioner of Official Languages is a language ombudsman, whose work often results in the resolution of situations of non-compliance with the OLA, thus avoiding costly and time consuming litigation, both for citizens and government."  

Again this year, the Commissioner’s report highlights inspiring practices with respect to official languages. This year, Katherine d’Entremont pays tribute to the leadership of Janine Doucet, Administrative Director of the New Brunswick Heart Centre. This provincial centre serves patients from all across the province. “I have every hope that the practices of Ms. Doucet and the New Brunswick Heart Centre will inspire other public sector employees in their efforts to ensure quality services in French and English for all people in this province.”

Commissioner d’Entremont emphasized how important it is for this province to set an example with respect to official bilingualism.

“New Brunswick can, and must, rise to the challenge of its status as the only officially bilingual province. First of all, this requires leadership to ensure that respect for the two languages and the two official linguistic communities is a real priority, not just a talking point.  Then the Province must find ways to fully meet its linguistic obligations. Lastly, regular monitoring is required in order to prevent problems and ensure respect for the language rights of New Brunswickers. In short, official languages must be a real priority.”


For further information:
Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444
Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca

About the Commissioner of Official Languages
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislature. Her role is to protect the language rights of the members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.
 

BACKGROUNDER

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE OLA COMPLIANCE AUDITS


COMPLIANCE OF PART I DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES WITH THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT
Are you being served in the official language  of your choice?

Can New Brunswickers be served by government in the official language of their choice throughout the province? That is the question behind a pilot project conducted by the Office of the Commissioner to audit compliance by Part I departments and agencies with the Official Languages Act. This was the first such assessment since the 1996 Delaney-LeBlanc report, published by the government. The audits were used to compare the delivery of services in English and in French at the provincial and regional levels.

Three types of audits were conducted: in-person audits in offices, telephone audits, and e-mail audits. They were conducted between January 18 and May 6, 2016. The margin of error for the three types of audits was 5%, 19 times out of 20.

It is important to note that this audit was conducted with only one group of institutions with obligations under the OLA, namely Part I government departments and agencies. Public bodies excluded from the audit were mainly the health sector, the courts, police services, Crown corporations and municipalities and Regional Service Commissions with obligations under the OLA.

IN-PERSON AUDITS IN OFFICES

• Verbal active offer (greetings in both official languages by employees) was the exception rather than the rule at the provincial level. The rates of in-person active offer for audits conducted in French and audits conducted in English were 19.3% and 17.7%, respectively (Table 1).

• Rates for receiving service in the official language of one’s choice are relatively  high at the provincial level (Tables 10 and 11):
o 81.6% for audits in French,
o 94.7% for audits in English.

• There were no instances of failure to receive service in English anywhere in the province. However, failures to receive service in French were reported in four of the seven regions (Table 10):
o Moncton and South-East (7.7%),
o Fundy Shore and Saint John (12.5%),
o Fredericton and River Valley (16.4%),
o Miramichi (10.5%).

TELEPHONE AUDITS

• Active offer (greetings in both official languages) is common practice over the telephone, and failure rates are low: 3.6% for audits conducted in French and 7.8% for audits conducted in English (Tables 12 and 13).

• Rates for receiving service in the official language of one’s choice are relatively high at the provincial level (Tables 20 and 21):
o 92.1% for audits in French,
o 94.6% for audits in English.

• There were no instances of failure to receive service in English anywhere in the province. However, a failure to receive service in French occurred in four of the seven regions (Table 20):
o Moncton and South-East (2.9%),
o Fundy Shore and Saint John (18.2%),
o Restigouche (6.3%),
o Miramichi (4.8%).

• At the provincial level, auditors who conducted audits in French received the service they were seeking from a program manager 73.4 % of the time. This rate rose to 78.8% for audits conducted in English (Table 17).

E-MAIL AUDITS

• As for the quality of language observed for e-mail service audits, standard French was reported in 81.8% of written responses and fair French was observed in 17.6% of cases at the provincial level. A failure rate of 0.6% was observed for e-mail service audits in French (Table 22).

• In terms of the quality of English observed during the e-mail service audits, standard English was reported in 97.8% of written responses and fair English was observed in 2.2% of cases. No failures were noted with respect to written English (Table 23).

• At the provincial level, auditors who conducted audits in French received the service they were seeking from a program manager 70.9% of the time. The rate was 65.4% for audits in English (Table 25).

List of Part I departments and agencies included in the compliance audit with the OLA

• Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries
• Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation
• Education and Early Childhood Development (excluding the English and French sections)
• Energy and Mines
• Environment and Local Government
• Executive Council Office
• Finance
• Health (Department)
• Human Resources
• Justice
• Kings Landing Historical Settlement
• New Brunswick Museum
• Natural Resources
• New Brunswick Police Commission
• Office of the Attorney General
• Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour
• Public Libraries
• Public Safety
• Regional Development Corporation
• Service New Brunswick
• Social Development
• Tourism, Heritage and Culture
• Transportation and Infrastructure
• Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal