'Insult' to francophones: N.B. groups demand Austin resign from language committee

FREDERICTON — Eighteen francophone groups in New Brunswick called on Tuesday for Kris Austin to resign from a legislature committee that is reviewing the province's Official Languages Act.

The organization that represents the province's Acadians — Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick — led a news conference to decry Premier Blaine Higgs's nomination to the committee of Austin, who is minister of public safety and solicitor general.

Austin, former leader of the defunct People's Alliance of New Brunswick, once proposed to merge the francophone health system into the English one and to abolish the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, Alexandre Cédric Doucet, president of the Acadian society, told reporters.

It is "nonsense" that someone like Austin has been named to a committee that is tasked with improving the province's bilingualism legislation, he said.

"I perceive his appointment by Premier Higgs as an insult to the Acadian and francophone community of the province."

Yvon Godin, president of the association of New Brunswick's francophone municipalities, asked for support from English-speaking New Brunswickers, adding that French speakers are an asset, not a threat.

Last week, Higgs committed to supporting bilingualism and defended Austin, who he said never opposed official bilingualism in the province.

The nomination of Austin drew a rebuke last week from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said the premier's choice "doesn't make sense."

"You don't put someone who has spent his entire career attacking official bilingualism and questioning the need to protect French in New Brunswick — or elsewhere — on a panel designed to protect bilingualism in New Brunswick,'' Trudeau said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.

The Canadian Press