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Assimilation: NB is not doing enough, according to the Commissioner of Official Languages

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New Brunswick's Commissioner of Official Languages, Shirley MacLean, presented her report for 2022-2023.

  • Michel Corriveau (Consult the profile)Michel Corriveau

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The Commissioner of Official Languages ​​of New Brunswick harshly criticizes the Higgs government. In her annual report for 2022-2023, Shirley MacLean highlights the decline of French in the province.

From 2016 to 2021, according to the latest Statistics Canada census, the percentage of people who use French at home increased from 28% to 26% in New Brunswick.

According to the Commissioner, the government is partly responsible for this decline, through its decisions regarding both the Official Languages ​​Act and its policies immigration.

Shirley MacLean is very harsh regarding the revision of the Official Languages ​​Act by the Conservative government of Blaine Higgs.

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The government's response to the recommendations of Commissioners Finn and McLaughlin was rather superficial.

A quote from Shirley MacLean, Commissioner of Official Languages ​​of New Brunswick

After waiting more than a year before introducing a bill to amend the Official Languages ​​Act, the Higgs government made only minor changes. The Prime Minister left aside most of the recommendations of Commissioners Finn and McLaughlin.

Besides the adoption of the Official Languages ​​Secretariat, the only points retained are of an administrative nature, underlines the commissioner.

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The report of the Commissioner of Official Languages ​​of New Brunswick for 2022-2023.

And precisely, with regard to this Official Languages ​​Secretariat, Shirley MacLean points out that this is not at all the recommendation that her office or Commissioners Finn and McLaughlin made. This was a secretariat headed by a deputy minister, who would have reported directly to the Prime Minister.

This is not what has passed, the Secretariat being the continuation of the Official Languages ​​Directorate of Intergovernmental Affairs which was already carrying out this work, she said.

Generally speaking, the commissioner believes that the Higgs government stood out from its predecessors by maintaining the status quo.

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Bill 37, by Prime Minister Blaine Higgs, which created the official languages ​​secretariat.

Many previous Liberal and Conservative governments have, through this process, strengthened this law and made real progress towards the equality of the two official linguistic communities. It is disappointing to note that the latest revision of our law did not result in similar progress.

According to the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Higgs government could have taken advantage of the revision of the Official Languages ​​Act to slow the decline of French in the province, through concrete measures.

If we had adopted [the recommendation] on language of work, that government employees had the right to work in the official language of their choice, perhaps there would be a greater tendency to see the use of the official minority language.

The commissioner also believes that the province's immigration policies are not ambitious enough. Currently, Fredericton's goal is to ensure that at least 33% of immigrants are French-speaking. The province is still far from achieving this objective.

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According to the Commissioner of Official Languages ​​of New Brunswick, Fredericton is not ambitious enough when it comes to Francophone immigration.

According to the commissioner, this imbalance has greatly harmed the survival of French in New Brunswick.

The rate of French-speaking immigration was lower than the demographic weight of the population, which likely contributed to the decline we see in the census results, she relates.

Rather than a target of 33%, the commissioner recommends a target of at least 40%.

When I think of immigration, the possibility of doing something to correct the shortcomings that have existed for a long time.

Constitutionalist and linguistic rights expert Michel Doucet has been following the evolution of the linguistic situation in New Brunswick for a long time. According to him, the commissioner's report takes stock of the current situation, a gloomy situation.

The commissioner's report this year is a report which confirms a setback in terms of linguistic rights, a setback also in terms of the government's commitment to take concrete measures to recognize that the language which is in a situation of vulnerability in New Brunswick is French, he says.

According to Michel Doucet, the commissioner clearly shows the lack of interest of elected officials for advancement linguistic rights.

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Michel Doucet is a constitutional lawyer and expert in linguistic rights (archive).

The report tells us, there is nothing currently being done, despite the major trends, despite the problems that exist, we do not seem to have leadership, neither in Fredericton, nor within any political party, deplores -t.

For example, the report highlights that during exchanges during question period in the Legislative Assembly, it is still English dominates. French is only used 20% of the time by MPs and ministers.

We realize that official languages ​​in New Brunswick no longer seem to interest the government at all, and they no longer interest the political class either, believes Michel Doucet.

Most of the time, the Commissioner of Official Languages ​​takes advantage of the annual report to make recommendations to the government, in order to advance compliance with the Official Languages ​​Act.

This time, the commissioner does not make any recommendations.

According to constitutionalist and linguistic rights expert, Michel Doucet, the commissioner could have addressed important issues such as the language of work in the public service, the needs of French-speaking seniors with regard to care homes, and even the question of early childhood, even if this file does not fall directly under the commissioner's jurisdiction.

We could have written a book if we want to talk about the gaps in official languages ​​in New Brunswick, but I believe that, all the same, the commissioner made an effort, but we could certainly have gone much further than simply making the observation of failures, which is currently being made, he said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was not available for an interview in response to the commissioner's report on Monday.

By email, Blaine Higgs noted that the official languages ​​secretariat had worked with the government to declare the second Thursday in September Official Languages ​​Day and that it had met with all the ministries.

The Prime Minister is pleased to see the number of complaints decrease, and assures that the government will work with the new municipal entities to ensure compliance with the law.

As for the details of the report, the Prime Minister says he wants to give himself time before reacting.

As Canada's only officially bilingual province, we take our obligations under the Official Languages ​​Act seriously and will take the time necessary to review the report in detail, he wrote.

  • Michel Corriveau (View profile)Michel CorriveauFollow

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