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June 22nd 2017

Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick tables fourth Annual Report

June 22, 2017 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Katherine d’Entremont, today tabled her fourth Annual Report. Bilingualism among senior public servants is one of the central themes of the document.

Study on the use of French in communications between Francophone organizations and municipalities and senior management of government departments and agencies

Commissioner d’Entremont presents the results of a study done by the Office of the Commissioner on the use of French in communications between Francophone organizations and municipalities and senior management of government departments and agencies. A survey of representatives of Francophone organizations and municipalities done as part of the study shows that only 4 respondents in 21 said that French was always used at meetings with senior public servants.

Commissioner d’Entremont considers these results unacceptable in the only officially bilingual province in Canada. Ms. d’Entremont is therefore urging the provincial government to act on her 2015 recommendations that bilingualism be a requirement for new appointments to senior management positions.

Legislative Officers

The 2016-2017 annual report of the Office of the Commissioner presents a summary of an investigation carried out as a follow-up to a complaint regarding the absence of a bilingualism requirement in three competition advertisements for legislative officer positions, including the Chief Electoral Officer.

The Commissioner’s analysis of the roles and responsibilities of these officers confirms the absolute necessity that those appointed to these positions be bilingual. The Commissioner points out that the responses provided by the provincial government to justify the absence of a bilingualism requirement are equivalent to denying the principle of equality of the two official languages and the two linguistic communities of New Brunswick.

To ensure the appointment of a bilingual person to a legislative officer position, Commissioner d’Entremont recommends a measure similar to the one put in place by the Parliament of Canada in 2013, namely, the adoption of an act requiring knowledge of English and French to be appointed to a legislative officer position. (It should be noted that this investigation did not pertain to the results of the recruitment process. The Commissioner therefore did not seek to determine the bilingual capacity of the individuals appointed to these positions.)

Linguistic obligations of cities, municipalities, and regional service commissions

The cities of New Brunswick, as well as eight municipalities and eight regional service commissions have linguistic obligations under the Official Languages Act.

The 2016-2017 annual report of the Office of the Commissioner outlines the results of the very first comprehensive audit of their compliance with the Act.

Despite a few failures to obtain service in English and French, the results of the audit tend to show that the public can generally obtain municipal or regional services in the official language of their choice. However, service in English is often better than service in French.

Commissioner d’Entremont makes five recommendations to improve and expand municipal and regional services in both official languages.

Chronic underfunding of the Office of the Commissioner

In her annual report, Commissioner d’Entremont highlights that the budget of the Office of the Commissioner has increased by 3.6% over the past 15 years while that of the Legislative Assembly has increased by 52.4%. In this regard, Ms. d’Entremont deplores the fact that the broadening of the Commissioner’s investigation mandate to include some 40 professional associations has not been accompanied by an increase in the operating budget.

For Commissioner d’Entremont, the chronic underfunding of the Office of the Commissioner compromises the protection of the language rights of all New Brunswickers.

Concerted approach to Francophone immigration

In the report, Commissioner d’Entremont highlights the recent signing of a Canada - New Brunswick immigration agreement that includes an annex on Francophone immigration, the first of its kind. The annex outlines how Canada and New Brunswick will work together to attract and retain French-speaking immigrants to maintain the linguistic makeup of the province. 

Commissioner d’Entremont, who has been recommending such a measure for a number of years, is pleased with the signing of the Francophone immigration annex.

Complaints received by the Office of the Commissioner

Between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, the Office of the Commissioner received 346 complaints. Of that number, 114 were admissible, with 92 based on lack of service in French and 22 on lack of service in English. There was an increase of 81% in admissible complaints over last year.

For further information:

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

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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.

 

Highlights of the 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

Highlights of the study on the use of French in communications between Francophone organizations and municipalities and senior management of government departments and agencies

Use of French

  • The vast majority of survey respondents, i.e., 17 out of 21, said they wished French was used more at meetings with senior public servants. That wish is not surprising given that only four respondents said French was always used at meetings with senior management.
     
  • There is some bilingual capacity within the senior public service. Half of the respondents said that French was used most of the time, whereas a quarter indicated that French was often or sometimes used during meetings with senior public servants.

Use of both official languages

  • Eleven respondents out of 21 reported meetings with senior public servants at which English and French were used often or sometimes. However, only four respondents have attended bilingual meetings where simultaneous interpretation was available.
  • In the absence of simultaneous interpretation, various practices were used. In some cases, the respondents would express themselves in French, and the senior public servants would reply in English. In other cases, a bilingual public servant would translate what the participants said into the other language (generally English). Some respondents said they would repeat in English what they had first said in French. Others spoke partly in English when the conversation pertained to technical matters.
     
  • The use of both languages at a meeting where simultaneous interpretation was not available was often a prelude to a meeting that would ultimately take place in English only. It was not unusual for the respondents to switch to English because the use of both languages slows down communications since anything said in French has to be translated into English.

Use of English

  • Nearly half the respondents said that English was often or sometimes the only language used at meetings with senior public servants.

Communication that is not clear

  • A number of respondents expressed concerns about the clarity of their exchanges with senior public servants. These concerns arise from two findings: first, some senior public servants who say they are bilingual are clearly not sufficiently proficient in French; second, a number of respondents were aware that the use of English limits their ability to express themselves with all the subtlety required by the complexity of the issues they are dealing with.

Obstacles to the use of French

  • The unilingualism of a senior public servant or a minister is definitely the main obstacle to the use of French at meetings with senior management. However, it is not the only one. Half of the respondents said that the level of French-language proficiency among bilingual senior public servants was not sufficient for in-depth discussions in French, which would result in their using English. Furthermore, a quarter of the respondents said that the use of French could result in the exclusion from meetings of senior public servants responsible for a particular issue, thus affecting discussion quality. In some cases, despite the presence of bilingual senior public servants, the presence of other unilingual Anglophone stakeholders (e.g., experts in a particular field) would prompt the group, often a working group, to use English.

Bilingualism among senior public servants

  • The respondents established a direct link between unilingualism among senior public servants and the inability to use French at meetings. Language training and a bilingualism requirement for senior management positions were the main means suggested for increasing the use of French.
     
  • Most respondents did not expect ministers to be bilingual. However, according to them, a minister’s unilingualism should not prevent the representatives of organizations from expressing themselves in French.

 

Highlights of the findings of the compliance audit of cities, municipalities and regional service commissions (RSCs) with the Official Languages Act

Audit of the delivery of services in person, by telephone and by email
(In total, 15 audits were done with each city and municipality in each language; 5 audits were done with each commission in each language.) 

  • The auditors usually obtained service in the official language of their choice. However, the service in English was often superior to the service in French in terms of the time it took to obtain service, the quality of written communications (emails), the frequency of failures to receive service, and the level of service delivery. 
     
  • The number of failures to receive service in the auditors’ choice of official language was low. In total, there were five failures during the 240 audits conducted in French with cities and municipalities. Two failures occurred during an audit in person at the city halls of Fredericton (1) and Miramichi (1), two failures occurred during a telephone call to the Saint John city hall (1) and the Rexton town hall (1), and one failure occurred during an audit conducted by email with the city of Moncton (1). 
     
  • There was only one failure to receive service in English, which occurred during an audit in person at the Atholville town hall.
     
  • No failures occurred during the audits of the regional service commissions (RSCs).
     
  • The active offer of service, i.e., greeting extended to the public in both official languages, is not a widespread practice. In fact, during the audits in person, the auditors were greeted in both official languages less than once out of every two times.

Audit of websites and social media

  • All of the cities, municipalities and RSCs respect the obligation to post information in both official languages on their websites.  However, major problems with respect to similarity of content between English and French web pages were noted for three cities (Edmundston, Miramichi and Saint John), one municipality (Eel River Crossing), and two RSCs (Greater Miramichi and Fundy).
     
  • With respect to posts on social media (Facebook and Twitter), the rate of posts in both official languages was relatively high. However, a number of cities, municipalities and RSCs had not published all of the posts audited in English and French.

Audit of official documents adopted or published between November 21, 2015 and November 21, 2016

  • All of the cities, except Miramichi, and all of the municipalities, except Charlo, have perfect (100%) or very high (95%) scores for the translation of official documents adopted or published during the audit period.
     
  • All of the RSCs, except the Fundy, Northwest and Greater Miramichi RSCs, had perfect (100%) or very high (98%) scores for the translation of official documents adopted or published during the audit period.


Cities, Municipalities and RSCs with Language Obligations under the Official Languages Act

Cities

Municipalities

(Municipalities with an official language minority population of at least 20% of the total population)

        Regional Service Commissions (RSCs)

(RSCs with language obligations are those serving an area whose official language minority population is at least 20% of the total population or that include a city or municipality subject to the OLA)

  • Bathurst
  • Campbellton
  • Dieppe
  • Edmundston
  • Fredericton
  • Miramichi
  • Moncton
  • Saint John
  • Atholville
  • Charlo
  • Dalhousie
  • Eel River Crossing
  • Rexton
  • Richibucto
  • Shediac
  • Tide Head
  • Northwest RSC
  • Restigouche RSC
  • Chaleur RSC
  • Greater Miramichi RSC
  • Kent RSC
  • Southeast RSC  
  • Fundy RSC
  • RSC 11