Official Languages in New Brunswick Historical Benchmarks
New Brunswick enacted its first Official Languages Act, making the province Canada’s first, and only, officially bilingual province.
The Act, enacted on April 18, 1969, set out that English and French are the two official languages of New Brunswick and recognized the fundamental right of New Brunswickers to receive services in the official language of their choice from the provincial government.
On July 17, 1981, the Legislative Assembly adopted the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick. Better known as Bill 88, the Act affirmed, among other things, the equality of status and equal rights and privileges of the two linguistic communities. It also entitled the two linguistic communities to separate institutions in which cultural, educational, and social activities could be carried on.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enacted
In 1982, New Brunswick had certain language rights entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The obligations flowing from these rights apply specifically to the institutions of the Legislature and of the government of New Brunswick. Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part of Canada’s Constitution, any law or government action that is inconsistent with the Charter is unconstitutional.
The Poirier-Bastarache Report
The Report of the Poirier-Bastarache Task Force on Official Languages, Towards Equality of the Official Languages in New Brunswick, was published in March 1982. It contained the results of a study conducted for a review of the Official Languages Act of 1969.The report included sociolinguistic and demographic linguistic data from New Brunswick and detailed information about the number of Anglophone and Francophone employees working in the public service.
In March l986, the Report of the Guérette-Smith Advisory Committee on Official Languages of New Brunswick was published. It contained the views and opinions of the public on the use of the two official languages and the committee’s conclusions. The report also contained comparative data for 1985, 1982, and 1978 on the number of Anglophone and Francophone employees in the public service.
The Government of New Brunswick presented its first official languages policy, which contained three components – language of service, language of work, and implementation. The concept of linguistic profiles for the team approach was also presented.
The first report on the implementation of the official languages policy was published. The report included general information on the establishment of linguistic profiles for all agencies in Part I of the public service. The report also explained the rationale and advantages of the team approach, as well as the factors used to determine the size and language proficiency required of each group.
The Government of New Brunswick agreed to prepare an annual report on official languages, containing data on activities related to official languages and detailed information about the departments’ linguistic profiles. This report was published yearly until 1997.
Since 1997-1998, each department has been responsible for including its official language activities in its annual report.
The Department of Finance and the Office of Human Resources (OHR) have continued to publish data on the linguistic profiles of the New Brunswick government, although they no longer publish the details for each department.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was amended to include the principles of An Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick. The amendment contains a declaration that “the English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, including the right to distinct educational institutions and such distinct cultural institutions as are necessary for the preservation and promotion of those communities.” The Charter also affirms the role of the legislature and government of New Brunswick to preserve and promote this status as well as these rights and privileges.
The Delaney-LeBlanc Report, Government of New Brunswick, Bonjour! A Study on the Effectiveness of New Brunswick’s Language Policy was published. For the first time since New Brunswick’s official languages policy came into effect in 1988, a study was conducted to assess how effectively it was working and its overall management, especially in terms of its two main components, language of service and language of work.
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal issued its decision in the Charlebois case and declared the bylaws of the City of Moncton invalid. The option to make bylaws in one language is not permissible under the Charter.
The Court suspended its declaration of invalidity of Moncton’s bylaws for one year to give both the City and the Province the opportunity to act so as to comply with their constitutional obligations.
The Province announced that it would not appeal the Charlebois decision and that legislation would be introduced in the spring to set fair and reasonable thresholds for municipalities to comply with the obligations set forth by the Court of Appeal. On June 4, 2002, a new official languages act was tabled in the Legislature. Three days later, it was passed unanimously.
The new act is much broader in scope than the 1969 act and contains major improvements, including active offer of service and establishment of the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. In addition to applying to all institutions of the Legislature and the provincial government, the new act imposes obligations on New Brunswick’s seven cities and on municipalities with an Anglophone or a Francophone minority representing at least 20% of their population.
Except for Section 43 (position of Commissioner), the new Official Languages Act came into effect in August 2002.
On February 20, 2003, Michel A. Carrier was appointed Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick for a renewable five-year term. On April 1, 2003, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick opened its doors.
A revised language of work policy was presented on April 1, 2009. A Coordinating Committee on Official Languages is established.
Government Plan on Official Languages
On December 1, 2011, the Government of New Brunswick unveils the Government Plan on Official Languages: Official Bilingualism – A strength. This two-year plan sets goals and identifies steps that the provincial government will take to ensure compliance with official languages legislation. It is intended for Part 1 of the provincial public service.
Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act
The 2002 Official Languages Act stipulates that the provincial government had an obligation to initiate a review of the act before December 31, 2012.
On June 8, 2011, the Premier moved a motion, seconded by the Leader of the Official Opposition, creating the Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act. The committee, which is made up of government and official opposition members, is mandated to undertake a review of the Official Languages Act and to conduct consultations. The select committee also has a mandate to review legal decisions on linguistic rights issues, recommendations from the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, and suggestions and recommendations from New Brunswickers. The committee must present a report with recommendations to the Legislative Assembly.
Revision of the Official Languages Act
Following two consultation processes, the Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act submitted its final report to the Legislative Assembly on June 14, 2013, making 42 recommendations pertaining to the Official Languages Act and other issues.
On June 14, 2013, the provincial government tabled Bill 72 to amend the Official Languages Act in response to the recommendations of the Select Committee.
The Bill proposed the following amendments:
- The Commissioner of Official Languages is given new responsibilities to carry out his or her mandate.
- A purpose clause is added to improve the definition of the principles and objectives of the act as well as to clarify the intentions of legislators, thus making the act easier to interpret.
- Following a two-year transition period and a consultation process, associations established by acts of the legislative assembly to regulate professions will become subject to the Official Languages Act.
- The provincial government is required to develop and apply a comprehensive plan for implementing its official languages obligations.
- Courts will have to consider the efforts made by police officers when fulfilling their linguistic obligations to determine “reasonable time.”
- The amendments clarify the provincial government’s official languages obligations when relying on subcontracting to provide services.
- Under the Municipalities Act, municipalities are given clear authority to make signage bylaws within their boundaries.
- The amendments confirm the practice of co-drafting provincial laws and regulations in English and French under the terms of the act.
- The next review of the act is required to be completed no later than December 31, 2021.
On June 21, 2013, An Act Respecting Official Languages received Royal Assent.
On June 14, 2013, Katherine d’Entremont was appointed Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick for a non-renewable seven-year term, succeeding Michel A. Carrier.
A new Commissioner of Official Languages
Shirley C. MacLean is the new Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick. She took office on January 2, 2020. You can view her biography by visiting our website.