August 15, 2022

Happy National Acadian Day!

Fredericton, August 15, 2022 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley MacLean, issued the following statement on the occasion of National Acadian Day:

“On this August 15, I invite New Brunswickers to celebrate. Let us celebrate by commemorating the history, appreciating the cultural richness, and recognizing the dynamism of New Brunswick’s Acadian community.

The battle to preserve the French language is an intrinsic part of New Brunswick’s Acadian history. Such is the fate of a language in a minority situation. On this August 15, I invite all New Brunswickers to continue to assert their language rights as set out in the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is by taking these actions that we can move towards substantive linguistic equality.

New Brunswick is at the heart of the Acadian diaspora. National Acadian Day is an opportunity to share the inviting, warm, and welcoming culture of New Brunswick’s Acadia with everyone. But beyond a simple day, this culture must be celebrated every day. For it is by increasing mutual understanding between our two linguistic communities that we will learn to understand each other better. Happy August 15!”

June 10, 2022

Statement on the government’s inaction on the review of the Official Languages Act

Fredericton, June 10, 2022 – The following statement was issued today by Shirley MacLean, Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick.

“On this last day of the spring sitting of the Legislative Assembly, I am greatly disappointed by the Premier’s silence on the review of the Official Languages Act.

In December 2021, the Report of the 2021 Review of the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick authored by Commissioners John McLaughlin and Judge Yvette Finn was made public. Almost six months have passed and there has not been a response or indication from the government as to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. Indeed, the Premier, who pursuant to section 2 of the Official Languages Act is responsible for its administration,  has not commented publicly in any concrete way about the recommendations to review the Official Languages Act.

The preamble to the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick states that the Constitution of Canada affirms, with respect to both official languages, the authority of the Legislature and Government of New Brunswick to advance the status, rights and privileges of the English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick.

New Brunswick Premiers from Louis J. Robichaud to David Alward have shown leadership and unwavering support for official bilingualism over the past 53 years. They have adopted and reviewed the Official Languages Act to advance the equality of status and use of English and French in New Brunswick. These changes through the years have provided ongoing recognition of the importance of our Official Languages Act, and acceptance that this legislation is important to New Brunswickers and official language minority communities.

As a jurist, I can appreciate that legislative amendments do not happen overnight. But six months after the release of the report on the review of the Official Languages Act, New Brunswickers at the very least deserve to hear the Premier’s reactions and intentions as to the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

The government’s failure to respond to the Report of the 2021 Review of the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick ignores the 6,656 questionnaire participants, the 31 briefs filed with the commissioners during their consultations and the over 80 meetings with 200 individuals and 52 stakeholder groups who participated in those discussions. More importantly, the failure to respond leaves the impression that the report lacks importance, and this is disrespectful to the commissioners, the participants in the consultation process, and all New Brunswickers.

Lack of progress on this file is in fact a setback for language rights. Let’s continue to move our province forward. Let’s modernize our Official Languages Act.”

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

April 9, 2022

Opinion letter: Affirming our unequivocal support for official languages

The following opinion letter was submitted to New Brunswick’s daily newspapers on April 7, 2022 by the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley C. MacLean, Q.C.

Last fall, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick commissioned a public opinion survey to take stock of New Brunswickers’ views on multiple aspects of official languages in the province: attitudes towards bilingualism, the relationship between linguistic communities, the quality and importance of language instruction in our public schools, perceptions of identity, and the delivery of government services in either official language.

The results, released on April 4, are clear: a strong majority of New Brunswickers (81%), from all regions of the province, support the concept of the Official Languages Act and bilingualism. This most recent survey echoed themes from a similar survey conducted by the Office of the Commissioner in 2009. At that time, support for official languages in the province stood at 82%.

New Brunswickers continue to show majority support for bilingualism today, despite the fact that an openly anti-bilingualism political faction has been active in the province for the past 12 years. These are encouraging results that, in my view, support the theory that the majority often remains silent while minority voices are unfortunately amplified, often with the help of social media, which can create an echo chamber effect.

In reality, official languages and mutual respect between our two linguistic communities are fundamental values in New Brunswick. Overall, the vast majority of us are proud of our status as Canada’s only bilingual province and want to continue to foster and nurture a New Brunswick where we preserve and promote the equal status, rights, and privileges of the English and French linguistic communities.

Support for the Official Languages Act and bilingualism is centred on respect for both official languages, while opposition to bilingualism is found primarily among Anglophones who cited the notion of privilege for Francophones or bilingual New Brunswickers with respect to access to public service employment opportunities. It is important to note that this opposition was expressed by a minority of survey respondents and does not reflect New Brunswickers as a whole.

This notion of favouritism for Francophones and bilingual workers in the province is a long-standing myth. According to recent data obtained from the government, unilingual Anglophones have access to 55% of government jobs in Part I of the provincial civil service.

The Official Languages Act seeks to ensure that New Brunswickers can access government services in the language of their choice – it does not dictate that all government jobs must be filled by bilingual employees. Certainly, in order to provide services in both official languages, a number of positions in the province are designated bilingual, but through a team approach, unilingual employees are often able to work collaboratively with their Francophone or bilingual colleagues to provide public services in accordance with the Official Languages Act.

Furthermore, I believe that the myths and discontent underlying the opposition are rooted in a lack of understanding of the Act and its objectives. The survey results showed a low level of awareness of the Official Languages Act and of the existence of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in general. This tells me that I still have work to do as Commissioner.

The Official Languages Act does not impose bilingualism on New Brunswickers. It exists to ensure that everyone in New Brunswick – our neighbours, our colleagues, our friends – can receive government services in the official language of their choice. It is at the root of our identity as a province: two linguistic communities, two languages, with their histories, their richness, and their possibilities.

Beyond their practical application here in the province, our language rights are also recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a component of the Constitution Act, the supreme law of our land. Enshrined in the Charter, the equal rights and privileges of English and French in New Brunswick are not up for debate.

I therefore encourage all of you to be proud to affirm your unequivocal support for both official languages in our province. Our status as a bilingual province is part of our identity and the vast majority of us are proud of it. Show your support openly, don’t be afraid to assert your belief that every New Brunswicker, whether Anglophone or Francophone, has a fundamental right to speak their language in public institutions. Together, we can change the narrative around official languages and bilingualism.

April 4, 2022

Support for official languages remains high in New Brunswick

Fredericton, April 4, 2022 – A strong majority of New Brunswickers (81%) from all regions of the province support the concept of the Official Languages Act and bilingualism. In addition, the majority of New Brunswickers (92%) feel it is important that instruction in the other official language be available in the province’s schools. These are some of the findings of a public opinion survey conducted by MQO Research for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages last fall. The new survey echoed themes from a similar survey conducted by the Office of the Commissioner in 2009.

“These results show that official languages and mutual respect between our two linguistic communities are fundamental values in New Brunswick,” said Commissioner MacLean. “Overall, the vast majority of us are proud of our status as Canada’s only bilingual province and want to continue to foster and nurture a New Brunswick where we preserve and promote the equal status, rights and privileges of the English and French linguistic communities.”

The research report addresses six major themes, including the province’s linguistic profile, perceptions of the Official Languages Act, relations between linguistic communities, language of service, language and education, and attitudes on language and society. The main findings are as follows:

  • 81% of respondents support the Official Languages Act;
  • 89% of respondents are confident that they can receive government services in the official language of their choice;
  • some Francophones said that the quality of service they received in a provincial government office was worse than the service they would have received in the other official language;
  • 92% of respondents felt it was important that instruction in the other official language be available in New Brunswick schools;
  • 91% of respondents felt that second language training for adults should be available free of charge in the province;
  • there is low awareness of the Official Languages Act and the existence of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages;
  • only 76% of Francophones speak French most often at home, while 99% of Anglophones speak their mother tongue most often at home;
  • young Anglophones are more likely to report a good level of bilingualism than their older counterparts; and
  • the myth that there is a preference for Francophones or bilingual speakers in terms of employment opportunities persists.

“When it comes to official languages, it is sometimes easy to hear only the voice of the vocal minority,” added Commissioner MacLean. “My goal in commissioning this survey was to be able to take stock of New Brunswickers’ attitudes towards language and society. The overall results of this survey, with 81% of New Brunswickers supporting the Official Languages Act, are certainly enlightening and encouraging.”

Full report: Language and Society in New Brunswick

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

February 2, 2022

Reaction to the report on second-language learning

Fredericton, February 2, 2022 – The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley MacLean, has reviewed the report on second-language learning released today by Commissioners Yvette Finn and John McLaughlin.

“While second-language learning is not part of my mandate as Commissioner of Official Languages, it is a topic of great interest to my office, as individual bilingualism impacts the ability of our government institutions to provide service of equal quality in both official languages across the province,” said Commissioner MacLean.

The commissioner is pleased to note the report recognizes the importance of continuity in language learning. The report contains recommendations to improve second-language learning in the province’s education system from early childhood onwards and for the adult population, noting the importance of using second languages in social contexts to promote cross-cultural interaction, understanding, and appreciation.

Among other topics, the report makes a number of recommendations regarding school eligibility rules based on language. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages wishes to remind the government that, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, New Brunswick’s English-speaking and French-speaking communities have the right to distinct educational institutions necessary for their protection and promotion. This constitutional guarantee and the principles of minority language protection must guide any legislative changes in this regard.

“Once again, I wish to thank the commissioners and their team for this extensive consultation process,” added Commissioner MacLean. “Now that the commissioners’ mandate is complete, I urge the Premier to move quickly to introduce legislation to review New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act and improve respect for language rights for all.”

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

December 15, 2021

Report on the review of the Official Languages Act: a good start

Fredericton, December 15, 2021 – The Commissioner of Official Languages welcomes the Report of the 2021 Review of the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick tabled today. In particular, she applauds the recommendations for the creation of a central entity dedicated to official languages within government, the establishment of a Standing Committee on Official Languages in the Legislative Assembly, measures to increase the effectiveness of the Office of the Commissioner, and the explicit inclusion of nursing homes in the Act.

“A provincial Department of Official Languages could support the Premier in the administration of the Act,” said Commissioner MacLean. “This is a recommendation we have made repeatedly, and I am convinced that the creation of this entity will finally give the official languages file the profile it deserves in Canada’s only officially bilingual province.”

While the Commissioner believes the creation of a Department of Official Languages will help ensure better compliance with the Act and help ensure that provincial public servants can work in the language of their choice, she would have liked to see a stronger recommendation to clearly enshrine in the Act the right of provincial public servants to work in the official language of their choice.

“I now encourage the government to act quickly to implement these recommendations,” added Commissioner MacLean. “The public has been consulted, the analysis has been done, and now it is time to act. I urge the Premier and all members of the Legislative Assembly to ensure that legislation is introduced and passed without delay.”

The Commissioner of Official Languages thanks Commissioners Finn and McLaughlin and their team for carrying out this extensive work. She also acknowledges the participation of the many organizations and individuals who took the time to participate in this important review exercise.

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

October 27, 2021

2020-2021 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

Fredericton, October 27, 2021 – Official languages continue to be sidelined in communications related to COVID 19. That is one of the key findings of the 2020-2021 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley MacLean. Her second report, released today, highlights the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, presents key developments in the area of official languages, reports on complaints received, and offers a series of case studies of complaints handled in 2020-2021.

“For a second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the delivery of services in our two official languages,” declared Commissioner MacLean. “The pandemic has disrupted the vast majority of government institutions in our province. These institutions have had to adapt their services and communicate with New Brunswickers at a pace never before seen. Unfortunately, in many cases, it was clear that official languages were an afterthought in these scenarios.”

During the period from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, the Office of the Commissioner received 230 complaints. Of these, 127 were admissible, 14 alleging lack of service in English and 113 alleging lack of service in French. This is the second-highest number of annual admissible complaints recorded since the Office of the Commissioner was created in 2003.

Some positive developments also took place during the period examined by the report:

  • Two commissioners were appointed to oversee the process of reviewing New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act by December 31, 2021.
  • A policy on government signage came into effect. This new policy takes into account the linguistic composition of New Brunswick’s various regions and presents the predominant language of the region first.
  • The Francophone immigration rate continued to increase, reaching a new high of 27% of total applicants in 2020.

To illustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s efforts to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act, the report outlines a series of files handled during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. These include investigations, complaints resolved through the alternative resolution process, inadmissible complaints handled under the Commissioner’s promotional mandate, and an unfounded investigation.

“As Commissioner, my primary role is to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act and to see that our two linguistic communities are treated equally,” added Commissioner MacLean. “Even when we process a large number of complaints, I am pleased to see a spirit of collaboration and a deep respect for our two official languages and our two linguistic communities among the vast majority of our government institutions. After all, we are all seeking to understand and be understood.”

Full report: 2020-2021 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

August 13, 2021

Message for National Acadian Day

Fredericton, August 13, 2021 – Shirley MacLean, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, invites all New Brunswickers to celebrate National Acadian Day this Sunday, August 15, 2021.

“Whether we are Francophones or Anglophones, August 15 is a special day that allows us to celebrate the resilience and joie de vivre of the Acadian people,” said Commissioner MacLean. “I invite all of my fellow New Brunswickers to take advantage of this day to discover and celebrate Acadian history, customs, and culture.”

August 15 celebrations are being held in many cities and municipalities across the province. There is often traditional Acadian music and a tintamarre, a walk in the streets making noise to demonstrate the vitality and solidarity of Acadian society and to remind others of the Acadian presence.

“Francophones and Acadians make up about a third of our province,” added Commissioner MacLean. “It is by knowing each other and learning to understand each other that we will succeed in bringing our two linguistic communities together. Happy National Acadian Day to everyone!”

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

July 15, 2021

Recommendations for improving the Official Languages Act

Fredericton, July 15, 2021 – Shirley MacLean, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, has presented her recommendations for the review of the Official Languages Act. In a brief entitled Greater respect for language rights through improvements to the Official Languages Act, the commissioner provides 23 recommendations to improve the Act and advance towards the substantive equality of both official languages and the two official language communities.

“The review of the Official Languages Act is an opportunity to strengthen the Act to protect our official languages,” said Commissioner MacLean. “Since we work closely with the Act, the Office of the Commissioner is well positioned to identify which aspects of the Act can be improved to ensure respect for language rights in our province.”

The following subjects can be found among the 23 recommendations in the Office of the Commissioner’s brief:

  • a series of recommendations to clarify the linguistic obligations of local governments;
  • legislating the right of provincial public servants to work in the official language of their choice;
  • the designation of an Official Languages Secretariat, a government entity responsible for supporting the Premier in the implementation of the Act;
  • the requirement for all future Legislative Officers to be bilingual;
  • amending the commissioner’s mandate from seven years to ten years, nonrenewable; and
  • a series of recommendations to improve compliance with the Act and with the commissioner’s recommendations.

Commissioner MacLean presented her recommendations to Judge Yvette Finn and Mr. John McLaughlin on Wednesday, July 14. Earlier this year, the Premier appointed these two independent commissioners to undertake a review of the Official Languages Act before December 31, 2021.

“I am confident that Commissioners Finn and McLaughlin will study the Office of the Commissioner’s recommendations closely,” Commissioner MacLean continued. “The New Brunswick Official Languages Act gives effect to obligations set out in the Canadian Constitution, our country’s most important legal document. It is imperative that this review strengthens New Brunswickers’ language rights. The Official Languages Act must evolve, much like our two official languages do over time.”

Full brief: Greater respect for language rights through improvements to the Official Languages Act
Brief submitted by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick concerning the review of the New Brunswick Official Languages Act

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

February 11, 2021

The Language Situation in New Brunswick: Worrying Trends and Some Encouraging Signs

Moncton, February 11, 2021 – Action on several fronts is necessary to mitigate or reverse some worrying trends relating to official languages in New Brunswick, particularly when it comes to the French-language community. These are the conclusions of a study conducted by the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities on behalf of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick.

“Despite the existing legislative and constitutional protections that exist in New Brunswick, it is concerning to see the decline of French, which is the minority language in our province,” noted Shirley MacLean, Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick. “The Official Languages Act recognizes that under the Canadian Constitution, the province has the authority to advance the equality of status of both official languages. This report contains important findings that can serve to influence public policy to increase equality between our two linguistic communities.”

The report, produced by Dominique Pépin-Filion in collaboration with Josée Guignard Noël and entitled The Language Situation in New Brunswick: Worrying Trends and Some Encouraging Signs, provides a snapshot of the situation of official languages and the linguistic minority in New Brunswick based on the themes and the data included in the Census Program. The latest available census data is from 2016.

“This study seeks to answer the following question: ‘What is the state of New Brunswick’s two official languages?’” stated Éric Forgues, Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities. “The report explores several variables, including people’s private and public use of the languages, their knowledge of the languages, and individual bilingualism. It also reviews the situation of the province’s minority Francophone community and the factors that influence its sustainability, such as linguistic assimilation, the transmission of French, migration, and immigration.”

The report touches on seven main themes:

The evolution of the official languages: stability of English, but the slow decline of French

We continue to witness the slow decline in the relative weight of the French-language community. The percentage of New Brunswickers whose mother tongue is French reached a low of 31.9% in 2016, compared to 33.8% in 1971, while the percentage of people whose mother tongue is English has remained stable at approximately 65% of the population since 1971.

The languages used at home and their transmission: anglicization on the rise, but encouraging signs for French

Fewer than nine in 10 Francophones (86.8%) spoke their mother tongue most often at home compared to almost all Anglophones (98.5%). However, Francophones in mixed couples, particularly mothers, are increasingly passing on French to their children. It is now more than half (52.8%) of children with Francophone mothers in mixed couples who have French as their mother tongue, up from 43.8% in 2001.

The vitality of official languages: the gap between English and French continues to widen

There were 7% more people who spoke English most often at home in 2016 than there were English mother-tongue speakers in the province. However, there were 11% fewer people who spoke French most often at home than people whose mother tongue was French.

Individual bilingualism has stagnated for more than a decade

Nearly 250,000 people declared themselves bilingual (English-French) in New Brunswick in 2016, one-third (33.9%) of the province’s population. The bilingualism rate has been stagnating at 33% in New Brunswick for about 15 years. Francophones accounted for two-thirds (66.7%) of bilingual New Brunswickers in 2016, while Anglophones accounted for almost one-third (29.0%).

Official languages in the workplace

The use of English in the New Brunswick workplace has been steadily increasing since 2001 (+1.3 percentage points), while the use of French has slightly decreased (-0.3) compared to 2001. In 2016, 89.0% of New Brunswickers spoke English at least regularly at work, compared to 36.7% who spoke French.

Migration of Francophones and Anglophones in Canada: deceptive appearances

Anglophone migration rates were about twice as high as those of Francophones between 2011 and 2016. For example, 5.5% of the Anglophone population, but only 2.7% of Francophones in the province had left New Brunswick during this period.

Immigration and official languages

In New Brunswick, the recent surge in immigration helped push the provincial immigration rate up from 3.1% in 2001 to 4.6% in 2016. In 2016, immigration rates in the two official language communities were 5.5% for the Anglophone majority, but only 2% for the Francophone minority. In 2016, 91.8% of the province’s foreign-born population knew English, compared to only 24.8% who knew French.

Full report: The Language Situation in New Brunswick: Worrying Trends and Some Encouraging Signs

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

December 16, 2020

Commissioner MacLean tables her first Annual Report

Fredericton, December 16, 2020 – Shirley MacLean, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, tabled her first Annual Report since the beginning of her mandate in January 2020. Covering the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the report summarizes the complaints received during the year, provides a glimpse of the Office of the Commissioner’s recommended amendments for the upcoming review of the Official Languages Act (OLA), and highlights the promotional activities undertaken as part of the 50th anniversary of the OLA in 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we still have a long way to go to achieving real equality between our two official languages in New Brunswick,” said Commissioner MacLean. “In March 2020, during the first month of the pandemic, the Office of the Commissioner received many complaints related to government news briefings on COVID-19. Deeming this situation urgent, our office made recommendations using the alternative resolution process. In times of crisis, it is important to ensure equal treatment of the province’s two official languages. Making one language available through interpretation only is not providing equal treatment of this language compared to the other.”

Between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, the Office of the Commissioner received 133 complaints. Of that number, 62 were admissible, with nine based on lack of service in English and 53 on lack of service in French.

Under the Official Languages Act, the Premier shall initiate a review of the Act, and the review shall be completed no later than December 31, 2021. The 2019-2020 Annual Report contains 12  recommendations to improve the OLA to facilitate advancement towards the equality of New Brunswick’s two official languages and two official language communities. Among other recommendations, the Commissioner suggests:

  • clarifying the obligations of police departments,
  • legislating the right of provincial public servants to work in the official language of their choice, and
  • implementing measures to improve compliance with the OLA, including imposing specific deadlines for replying to investigation reports and authorizing the use of enforcement agreements for institutions that contravene the OLA on a regular basis.

In 2019, New Brunswick celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act. The Office of the Commissioner created a series of promotional videos to mark the occasion. The videos highlighted the many benefits of having two official languages as well as the importance of accessing public services in one’s language of choice. The videos also paid tribute to all who put in considerable effort to learn the other official language. Shared online as well as broadcast on television, the videos were viewed over 100,000 times.

“I have learned so much in my first few months as Commissioner of Official Languages,” added Commissioner MacLean. “During the course of my mandate, I wish to not only fulfill my role as protector of the official language rights of all New Brunswickers, but hope to also be able to facilitate many conversations. Because it is through conversation that we will learn to understand each other and foster respect for our two official linguistic communities.”

 

Media contact:
Véronique Taylor
Communications, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free)
Veronique.Taylor@gnb.ca

November 18, 2020

Official languages and the power of the Legislature

The following opinion letter was submitted to New Brunswick’s daily newspapers on November 12, 2020 by the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Shirley C. MacLean, Q.C.

We have many reasons to be proud of our province. This pride of belonging resonates in all regions of New Brunswick for a variety of reasons: our great quality of life, our cultural diversity, our many natural wonders, and our warm and welcoming people.

We should all also be proud that our province is the only one to recognize English and French as its two official languages. In fact, New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act, first adopted in 1969, was even adopted before the federal Official Languages Act. In this regard, we are truly national trailblazers.

There is however a great deal of misinformation regarding the Official Languages Act and official bilingualism in New Brunswick. As the Legislature reconvenes in Fredericton, I call on our legislators, both seasoned and new, to stand up for language rights for all New Brunswickers.

Language rights in our province go beyond simple rights; they are obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under the Charter, English and French are the official languages of New Brunswick and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Legislature and the Government of New Brunswick. The Canadian constitution also confirms the authority of the Legislature and the Government of New Brunswick to advance the status, rights and privileges of our province’s two official languages.

Although it is part of my mandate to investigate, submit reports, and make recommendations aimed at ensuring compliance with the Official Languages Act, my role is also to promote the advancement of both official languages in the province. That said, it is also incumbent on our provincial legislators to promote the advancement of our two official languages as enshrined in the Charter.

We do not have to look far to see a linguistic divide in our province today. As Bernard Richard said so well in an editorial about New Brunswick’s two linguistic communities following the September 14 election: “La réalité demeure qu’on se connaît mal et qu’on ne se comprend pas.” (The reality remains that we don’t know each other very well and that we don’t understand each other.)

It is with this in mind that I invite our elected provincial officials to set a good example and learn about the legislative framework of official languages in our province, and in addition to go even further and revisit and seek to understand the cultural history that led to the creation of a bilingual New Brunswick. In short, we must not simply understand language rights, but also understand why these rights exist.

The Sixtieth Legislature of New Brunswick, which will open in the coming days, presents a golden opportunity for our legislators to demonstrate a real commitment to language rights. The last review of the New Brunswick Official Languages Act in 2013 requires a review of the latter no later than December 31, 2021. This review process will allow Members of the Legislative Assembly to survey New Brunswickers and experts in the field to identify the legislative changes necessary to ensure respect for English and French as official languages and to ensure the equality of status and equal rights and privileges of the official languages with regard to their use in all the Province’s institutions.

The Official Languages Act prevails over almost all other Acts in our province. This status reflects the importance given to language rights within our legislative framework. The review of the Official Languages Act is a task fraught with responsibilities that will require diligent and persistent work. It will be necessary to know how to refute the “common sense” discourse and improve the Act in order to protect the interests of our linguistic communities. We will have to seek to improve the Act to ensure that the government complies with its constitutional obligations with respect to our two official languages. Because it is by advancing the equal use of English and French in the institutions of the Province that we will contribute to the vitality of our official languages, and more particularly to the vitality and protection of the French language, which is in a minority situation across much of the province.

It is about time we learned to understand each other in New Brunswick. Different political ideologies will continue to exist indefinitely, and some areas of our province will remain basically more Francophone or more Anglophone; that is nothing new. Nevertheless, all of our elected representatives must recognize the merits and the importance of the Official Languages Act. Such recognition from the seat of democracy in New Brunswick can only promote the progress of respect for our two official linguistic communities and contribute to the vitality of our two official languages.