Fredericton, March 20, 2008 – The Official Languages Act of New Brunswick states that it does not apply to the Department of Education. This in fact limits the power of the Commissioner of Official Languages to investigate complaints with respect to the operation of the education system. The Act, however, does provide him with the authority and the responsibility to promote the advancement of both official languages. It is based on this part of his mandate that Commissioner Michel Carrier became involved with FSL reform in the province, beginning with his own review, the details of which were included in his 2005-2006 annual report.
The Commissioner has been speaking in favor of improving FSL for many years. He made presentations to the FSL Commissioners to this effect last fall and was instrumental in ensuring that the Federal Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, and others appeared before the FSL Review Commissioners as he believed these people had valuable information and insights to share. The Commissioner also spoke directly with the Minister prior to the launching of the department’s FSL Review, following the release of the Review and prior to the announcement in the Legislature last Friday. Mr. Carrier attempted to convince the Minister that the abolition of the early Immersion program was not the right course of action. He pointed out that there are a number of expert recommendations that did not seem to have been given the proper attention during the review process.
While the Commissioner does not take issue with the Minister’s right to bring about needed changes in the education system, and while he recognizes the fact that the Minister has been available to meet with him on this subject, he cannot support the decision to remove the Early Immersion program from the FSL curriculum. “There is no doubt that the system is in need of reform”, adds the Commissioner. “However, like many others who have come forward, I am not convinced that this is the way to go. Indeed, experts in the field have confirmed that there are many options that could have been considered other than slashing the early immersion program.”
As his mandate does not allow him to investigate complaints related to the ongoing FSL controversy, the Commissioner is encouraging New Brunswickers who are unhappy with the government’s decision to contact the Office of the Ombudsman. While policy issues and decisions are generally in the domain of the legislators, the suggestion that the immersion changes are more administrative than legislative and, moreover, that the Commissioners’ work was flawed, brings about questions of due process, an issue that falls squarely within the Ombudsman’s purview. As well, the Ombudsman’s role as Child and Youth Advocate mandates him to examine the impact of the changes on New Brunswick’s children.
“It is now essential that New Brunswickers share their concerns with their government,” Mr. Carrier said. “In addition to letters to the editor, MLA’s and the Minister, they can also contact the Office of the Ombudsman. For my part, I intend to continue exerting whatever influence I have to convince the provincial government of the need to re-think its decision.”
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CONTACT PERSON: Giselle Goguen, Director of Public Affairs and Research, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, (506) 444-4229, 1-888-651-6444 (toll-free), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.