Fredericton, March 21, 2007 – The Commissioner of Official Languages, Michel Carrier, has submitted his annual report for 2005-2006 to the Legislative Assembly, in accordance with New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act (OLA). The Annual Report is also available on-line.
During the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages handled 118 complaints and 17 requests for information. A total of 58 complaints were admissible, 42 of which reported a lack of government services in French and 16 a lack of services in English. Fifty complaints were deemed inadmissible because they did not come under the Commissioner’s authority or did not concern an institution within the meaning of the Act. Ten complaints were referred to other institutions, such as the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission. A summary of complaints resolved during the year is included in the Annual Report.
The Annual Report contains several recommendations:
- That the provincial government undertake steps with the federal government to have added to the Provincial Police Service Agreement a specific clause clearly stating that the RCMP, while acting as a provincial or municipal police force, is subject to the OLA.
- That the Province undertake to consult municipalities in order to identify their needs in terms of language skills training and that it come to an agreement with them on the best ways of meeting these needs. In turn, the municipalities wishing to access a language training program be required to submit a plan showing how they propose to offer bilingual services so as to comply with the OLA.
- That the Province undertake the necessary steps to clarify the obligations of New Brunswick professional associations and that there be discussions to determine these obligations. As well, that the professional associations, which deal with the public on a regular basis, be required to provide their services in both official languages.
OLA Master Plan: No Response
In his 2004-2005 Annual Report, the Commissioner had made a series of recommendations with regard to a master plan that the Province should develop and adopt in order to best assume its responsibilities under the OLA. Despite early assurances that the Committee of Deputy Ministers on Official Languages had been instructed to study the Report and identify the steps government should take in response to it and although it has been in their hands for more than a year, the Commissioner has yet to receive an official response. “I am at a loss to explain the low priority that seems to have been given to an important issue,” said Mr. Carrier.
French Second Language Education: Time For A Re-Think
In his Report, the Commissioner also discusses his ongoing study of French second-language education in New Brunswick. Early in his mandate, which began in 2003, the Commissioner heard from people concerned about what appeared to be a lack of progress and the absence of new initiatives aimed at improving French second language education, even after the adoption of the Province’s Quality Learning Agenda which promised that by 2013, 70 % of all high school graduates, English and French, will be able to function effectively when speaking their second official language.
Already being aware of several FSL-related studies and research projects, the Commissioner sought to hear from the people in the field and report on that input. As a result, he met with 50 people who are directly or peripherally involved in FSL programs in New Brunswick. Of these, only one person believes the 70% goal can be reached. Many factors have been attributed to the problems in the delivery of FSL programs. These include:
- Uneven implementation of Policy 309 which states that all New Brunswick students will have the opportunity to acquire proficiency in French;
- An insufficient number of FSL personnel, both in terms of supervisors at the district level and teachers in the schools;
- Core French, an FSL program where French is the subject being studied, is antiquated and in dire need of changes;
- Uneven promotion of FSL province-wide.
“It is clear that the FSL community is vibrant and that both within the education system and outside there are people who have identified problems and who can take part in finding solutions,” said the Commissioner. “There is sufficient knowledge, imagination and good will to bring about those solutions. What is essential, however, is that the provincial government and the Department of Education move firmly and convincingly on some of the problems and challenges that currently exist.”
The Commissioner’s report provides a list of suggestions from the stakeholders with whom he consulted and recommends that the government study them closely and act on them.
Language Of Work: Still No Progress
The Commissioner also notes that the provincial government seems to have made no progress in implementing promised amendments to the language of work component of its Official Languages Policy, the instrument that guides civil servants in the implementation of the OLA. He therefore reiterated his position that the language of work element be reviewed so that civil servants are able to work in their first official language and pursue their careers in that language. As well, bilingual Anglophone civil servants should be encouraged to use French in their workplace and be given opportunities to sharpen their language skills.
The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an officer of the Legislature. He investigates complaints and makes recommendations with respect to compliance with the province’s Official Languages Act. The Commissioner is mandated to receive and investigate complaints regarding government institutions as they are defined under the OLA.
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