Language commissioner slams government 'inaction' on Official Languages Act review

·3 min read
Shirley MacLean, the province's commissioner of official languages, said New Brunswickers deserve to hear Premier Blaine Higgs's reactions and intentions regarding implementing the recommendations of the Official Languages Act review report. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Shirley MacLean, the province's commissioner of official languages, said New Brunswickers deserve to hear Premier Blaine Higgs's reactions and intentions regarding implementing the recommendations of the Official Languages Act review report. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

New Brunswick's official languages commissioner says she's "greatly disappointed" by Premier Blaine Higgs's silence on the review of the Official Languages Act.

Shirley MacLean called the lack of progress on the file "a setback for language rights," in a statement issued Friday, the last day of the spring sitting of the legislature.

Higgs countered that MacLean may have assumed he'd respond to the review by the end of the spring session, but contends he was clear it would be by the end of June.

Almost six months have passed since former deputy minister John McLaughlin and Judge Yvette Finn filed their report on their review of the act, noted MacLean.

Yet the premier, who, pursuant to Section 2 of the Official Languages Act, is responsible for its administration, "has not commented publicly in any concrete way about the recommendations to review the Official Languages Act," she said.

As a jurist, MacLean said, she can appreciate that legislative amendments don't "happen overnight."

But after six months, New Brunswickers "at the very least deserve to hear the premier's reactions and intentions as to the implementation of the report's recommendations," she said.

Leaves impression report 'lacks importance'

The government's lack of response to the once-a-decade review "ignores" the 6,656 questionnaire participants, the 31 briefs filed with commissioners McLaughlin and Finn during their consultations, and the more than 80 meetings attended by 200 individuals and representatives of 52 stakeholder groups, argued MacLean.

"More importantly, the failure to respond leaves the impression that the report lacks importance, and this is disrespectful to the commissioners, the participants in the consultation process, and all New Brunswickers."

Pat Richard/CBC
Pat Richard/CBC

Higgs, however, told reporters he "said from the beginning" he would respond to the review in the month of June.

"So I mean, the commissioner may have been looking for that response this week during the legislative sitting. But I was clear … that it wouldn't likely be this week."

"So I guess if she hadn't heard that directly, I mean, I would have expected that she could have called the office, and I could have answered that directly.

"I mean, maybe the number of complaints are down this month. So it was trying to create one."

'Very significant' recommendations take time

Asked what's taking so long, Higgs said there are several recommendations that are "very significant."

For example, the review recommends significant changes to the way the government oversees bilingualism requirements, including creating a standing committee of the legislature and a new department that would become a clearing house for the law's implementation. That department would report directly to the premier.

Higgs said he's considering all of the recommendations, "what they look like and what implications they may have on individuals in the province."

Move province forward

MacLean said previous New Brunswick premiers, "from Louis J. Robichaud to David Alward have shown leadership and unwavering support for official bilingualism over the past 53 years."

They have adopted and reviewed the Official Languages Act to "advance the equality of status and use of English and French in New Brunswick."

"These changes through the years have provided ongoing recognition of the importance of our Official Languages Act, and acceptance that this legislation is important to New Brunswickers and official language minority communities," said MacLean.

"Let's continue to move our province forward. Let's modernize our Official Languages Act."

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