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April 1st 2008

Health Reform: Letter from the Commissioner to Minister Murphy

Hon. Michael Murphy, Minister
Department of Health
HSBC Place
520 King Street, 5th Floor
Fredericton, N.B.
E3B 6G3

Dear Minister Murphy:

In response to your department’s recent decision to transition from eight Regional Health Authorities to two, some have been promoting the idea of identifying the two RHA’s along linguistic lines. I have been provided with a copy of the March 17th, 2008 letter addressed to the Premier by the Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick (SAANB) in which it is recommended that these designations be formally added to the new legislation. Specifically, the Société recommends that the legislation designate RHA “A” a francophone institution and RHA “B” an Anglophone institution. The recommendation clearly states that these designations must be subject to the obligation for both RHAs and the health establishments within those RHAs to deliver all services in conformity with the Official Languages Act (OLA).

I have taken the time to reflect on the proposed reform and on all that I have heard and read on the topic. Based on this review, I have concluded that the amendments as proposed by the SAANB, if implemented, would not have a detrimental impact to the effective management of our health system. Furthermore, I would assume that such an addition would do much to quell some of the concerns expressed by those who have perceived the reform or parts thereof as having a negative impact on the advancement of our linguistic communities. Quite frankly, it appears to me that this amendment would simply be reflecting reality. In fact, former regional health authorities operating in mostly francophone areas find themselves joined under RHA “A”, while those authorities in areas where the majority population is English-speaking are found under RHA “B”.

I therefore wish to go on record as supporting the request made by the SAANB in its letter to the Premier.

I hasten to add, however, that in the implantation of the reform, other issues related to the delivery of health services in the language of choice and with respect to the advancement of both linguistic communities must be addressed.

Firstly, since the OLA clearly states that all health establishments must serve members of the public in the language of choice, the new legislation should contain a clear statement to the effect that RHAs will be operating under similar obligations. While the OLA already provides a general obligation to that effect for provincial institutions, I suggest that a repeat of this requirement would not be superfluous.

In addition, I strongly believe that there is a need for a clear recognition and directive that, as per the obligations of the OLA, both RHAs and their institutions are required to proactively establish strategic plans and performance measures designed to ensure that they are providing equal services in the language of choice wherever services are provided.

Furthermore, I believe it must be also clearly established that the Non-clinical Shared Services Agency must offer all of its services in the language of choice when dealing with the RHAs, their employees, the health establishments and the employees of those establishments. In other words, it must be clearly indicated that those services and communications provided by or emanating from this agency are subject to the OLA requirements as outlined in sections 27, 28, 28.1, 29 and 30.

And finally, I recommend that the mandate of the NB Health Council must clearly contain the obligation to ensure that all their deliberations, recommendations and actions reflect and be inspired by the language rights contained not only in the OLA and the Act Recognizing the Equality of the two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick but as well by the rights contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as interpreted by our Courts. I would suggest that any legislation dealing with the work of the Council should contain a clause or clauses to that effect.

I wish to assure you that the above is respectfully submitted in a spirit of healthy progression of linguistic rights and with hope that such additions will go a long way to continue to foster healthy interactions between the two official linguistic communities while providing a health system that works for all.

I am obviously available should you wish to discuss this further.

Yours truly,

Michel A. Carrier, Q.C.
Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

MAC:pp