N.B. Opposition accuses premier of not making official languages review ‘a priority’

Click to play video: 'N.B. premier to consider Official Languages Act recommendations in June'
N.B. premier to consider Official Languages Act recommendations in June
Watch: Premier Blaine Higgs says the government will respond to the recommendations in the review of the official languages act, but not until in June -- six months after the report was released. Critics say the delay reveals the file is not a priority for the government. Silas Brown has more. – Apr 11, 2022

According to Premier Blaine Higgs, the government won’t respond to the review of the Official Languages Act until June — six months after the report was finished.

Higgs told a legislative committee last week that the government is still reviewing the recommendations found in the report released in December.

Interim Liberal leader Roger Melanson said the delay is indicative of the attention the current government gives to language rights issues in the country’s only bilingual province.

“The message that we get as citizens of this province is that it’s not a big priority of the premier and this government,” he said.

The review of the act must be completed every 10 years and was released on Dec. 15, 2021. Among the recommendations provided by commissioners Yvette Finn and John McLaughlin are the creation of a dedicated government department to handle the implementation of the act and the creation of a permanent committee of the legislature to oversee it. The government has no obligation to respond within a certain time frame or to accept the recommendations.

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Read more: New Brunswick Official Languages Act review calls for dedicated department

The premier is currently responsible for overseeing the act through the department of Intergovernmental Affairs.

“We are reviewing the recommendations and looking at them very seriously and with the plan to meet the schedule of responding in June,” Higgs told the committee on estimates and fiscal policy last week.

As part of this year’s budget, Higgs said the department of Intergovernmental Affairs’ budget will fall by $500,000 to $8 million, reflecting the cost of last year’s review. While facing questioning from Melanson, Higgs said that no money has been earmarked in this fiscal year for the implementation of the review’s recommendations.

“I wouldn’t read that much into the fact that the budget hasn’t changed at this point because it would be difficult to presuppose what’s going to happen at this stage, but we’ve committed to come back in June with a plan,” Higgs said.

“Depending on what that looks like will have obviously an influence on what it costs and what we’re able to do this year.”

The president of the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick also criticized the delay in responding to the report.

“It shows a lack of leadership of the government on this file,” Alexandre Cédric Doucet said.

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

He urged the government to accept all recommendations, particularly those on the creation of an official languages-focused department and committee, or risk the continued increase of tensions between the province’s two linguistic communities.

“It would be very unfortunate for all of the people of New Brunswick,” Doucet said.

“We will continue to have linguistic battles and that is unfortunate for the social stability of New Brunswick.”

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