FREDERICTON—The official languages commissioner in New Brunswick—Canada’s only officially bilingual province—says the government still isn’t getting it right.
Katherine d’Entremont is recommending a new secretariat be created to help ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act, which was enacted nearly 50 years ago.
“The plan is not changing the status quo. In other words, the plan has not resulted in renewed progress toward the equality of both languages and both communities,” d’Entremont said Wednesday as she presented her final report as commissioner.
The percentage of New Brunswickers whose mother tongue is French reached a low of 31.9 percent in 2016, compared to 33.8 percent in 1971, d’Entremont said. The number of anglophones has remained stable at about 65 percent.
She cited “the lack of an adequate structure and adequate resources to support the premier” as a major obstacle.
D’Entremont said New Brunswick needs to ensure the future vitality of the French language, promote both official languages at work, and take advantage of its bilingual workforce.
But she said that effort needs some clout.
“There is no Official Languages Department or secretariat. There is therefore no deputy minister who deals primarily with this issue. Yet, deputy ministers or assistant deputy minister positions have been created for specific areas such as corporate communications, special initiatives, or women’s equality,” she said.
D’Entremont said she believes the secretariat could be created with a handful of existing staff scattered among government departments.
The commissioner’s office received 79 admissible complaints in the past year, of which 64 concerned services in French and 15 about services in English.
When legislative officers, such as the Official Languages Commissioner, present their reports, members of the appropriate legislative committee have a few hours to ask questions, but no Liberal or Progressive Conservative members had questions for d’Entremont Wednesday.
Tory MLA Bria Keirstead later said he needed time to read the 86-page report.
Only Green Leader David Coon asked questions—and said he was embarrassed by the silence from the other elected members.
He told reporters he believes the other parties didn’t want to touch the contentious issue of language in advance of the Sept. 24 provincial election.
“I think my colleagues were fearful of asking questions because they’re concerned about the election year and somehow if they ask questions that seem interested in the report, that somehow might reflect poorly on them at the polls,” Coon said.
Coon said he supports the idea of a secretariat for language, and is surprised that in 2018 there isn’t one already.
D’Entremont is stepping down as commissioner, saying she wants to explore something new.