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N.B. language commissioner ‘greatly disappointed’ in recommendation silence

Click to play video: 'Concern about N.B.’s lack of action on official languages recommendations' Concern about N.B.’s lack of action on official languages recommendations
WATCH: There are ongoing concerns about the provincial government’s lack of action on recommendations made to change the Official Languages Act. As Nathalie Sturgeon reports, the commissioner and those representing the Francophone community in New Brunswick say the lack of response is a setback for language rights. – Jun 13, 2022

The latest sitting of the New Brunswick legislature has come to an end but recommendations that were made to the government on the Official Languages Act have been left on the table.

It’s been six months since two appointed commissioners, judge Yvette Finn and retired deputy minister of the anglophone sector of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, John McLaughlin, gave a definitive report to the government.

Several key recommendations were made, including the creation of a Department of Official Languages and creating a standing committee on official languages in the legislative assembly.

However, Shirley MacLean, the commissioner of official languages, said she is greatly disappointed by the silence on this file.

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“I was really hoping to have a response, a very concrete response, hopefully before the (end of the) sitting of the legislature, but in taking into consideration that it is over six months since the report was filed, to not have a response is, in my view, concerning, at this point,” she said.

During the latest session, the government and other parties were busy passing several other pieces of legislation, including changes to the tenancies act and new child welfare protection legislation.

MacLean said a lack of a response ignores the many people and groups who helped inform the report.

There were nearly 6,656 questionnaire participants, 31 briefs filed and more than 80 meetings held with 200 individuals and 52 stakeholder groups.

“I can appreciate that legislative amendments do not happen overnight,” she said in a statement on Friday. “But six months after the release of the report on the review of the Official Languages Act, New Brunswickers at the very least deserve to hear the Premier’s reactions and intentions as to the implementation of the report’s recommendations.”

MacLean said the lack of response is a setback for language rights.

The president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick, Alexandre Cedric Doucet, agrees with that sentiment.

“It’s certain that we’re frustrated by the situation that the government did not comment on its intention to revise the official languages act and I fundamentally think that (is) sending a wrong message to the Acadian community,” he said in an interview on Monday.

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Doucet said the society is in constant communication with the premier’s office and he does feel hopeful New Brunswickers will get a response as promised in June.

The organization has given the government a list of key priorities:

  • A new part in the law of language of work for the employees of the public service
  • A new part in the law for nursing homes
  • More authority and more funding to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
  • Better implementation of the law by creating an Official Languages Secretariat and a Standing Committee on Official Languages of the Legislative Assembly
  • Clarifications on the section in the law about the service delivery and communication with the public
  • Merger of the New Brunswick Official Languages Act and the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick

Premier Blaine Higgs said the government would respond in June and that he has been clear.

“We are committed to having a response this month and we will do that,” he said on June 10.

When asked what was taking so long, Higgs pointed to the fact the recommendations are significant.

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“I’m considering all the recommendations,” Higgs said.

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