New Brunswick Official Languages Act review calls for dedicated department

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick Official Languages Act review makes recommendations'
New Brunswick Official Languages Act review makes recommendations
A review to New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act is once again bringing the province’s language and cultural divide to the forefront. There are no major changes coming but the report released on Wednesday does have recommendations to clarify some aspects of the law. Suzanne Lapointe reports – Dec 15, 2021

A report on the review of the Official Languages Act in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, was released on Wednesday.

The Official Languages Act is reviewed once every decade, with the goal of offering a better understanding and implementation of the province’s language laws, as well as promoting a better understanding of the often divisive language laws.

The report was headed by two commissioners, judge Yvette Finn and retired deputy minister the anglophone sector of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, John McLaughlin.

Read more: New Brunswick premier to appoint two commissioners to review Official Languages Act

It outlined several recommendations to better ensure the province meets its constitutional responsibilities as it relates to bilingualism.

The most important among them was the implementation of a Department of Official Languages, to act as a central resource for all things relating to the Official Languages Act.

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Click to play video: 'N.B. language commissioner talks bilingualism in government services'
N.B. language commissioner talks bilingualism in government services

Finn said she feels the lack of such a department “is what is stalling the progress that we can make as a bilingual province” and wants to see it instated as soon as possible.

The report also called for the creation of a standing committee on this issue in the Legislative Assembly, something Premier Higgs has resisted in the past.

Read more: Questions on bilingualism dominate N.B. languages commissioner’s committee appearance

“We just think it would be a really great effort if our elected officials would come together to discuss official languages and bilingualism […] in a way that’s constructive,” said McLaughlin, calling for a better understanding between linguistic communities.
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The Acadian Society of New Brunswick was pleased with the report. President Alexandre Cédric Doucet said his organization “welcomes the work of the two commissioners and we will work with the government to ensure the adoption of a bill for a revised Official Languages Act of New Brunswick as soon as possible.”

Other measures suggested included reviewing the Official Languages Act every five years rather than every 10 years and including nursing homes in the Act to ensure patients had access to care in their official language.

Constitutional lawyer reacts

Constitutional lawyer and expert on language law Michel Doucet isn’t sure a Department of Official Languages is the best solution, fearing it would create a situation where other departments felt they no longer had responsibilities related to official bilingualism.

There is no time frame in which the provincial government is obligated to respond, and they have no obligation to heed any of the recommendations in the report.

Doucet says now the question is, “When will a new modification of the Official Languages Act be submitted, if ever?”

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