Two competing petitions are circulating around New Brunswick and are igniting a new debate over the provincial government’s hiring policies.
A St. Stephen woman has started one online petition that calls on the provincial government to stop passing over people for jobs who only speak English.
Joyce Wright said she believes qualified people are losing out on jobs and promotions because they don't have adequate French skills.
"I'm doing this because it's affecting my friends and family members in a way it never has before," she said.
Wright started collecting names on her online petition a month ago and so far she’s received 5,000 supporters.
Wright said she has a warning for the provincial government when it comes to how it hires workers.
"Make sure that as we provide service in the language of choice, we are not eliminating qualified, competent, trained individuals just because they speak only one language," she said.
Last week, three francophone New Brunswickers started a counter-petition calling on the New Brunswick government to maintain conditions for a workforce that is 50 per cent bilingual.
The group says bilingualism is part of this province's wealth and should be protected. So far, more than 1,100 people have signed onto that petition.
Jeanne d'Arc Gaudet, the president of the Acadian Society, said there should be an open debate about hiring practices in the provincial government and that discussion should include information about the province’s legal rights.
"It's OK to have emotions but we need to go get the facts," she said.
"We need to understand that our government in New Brunswick and the federal government, they have constitutional obligations towards their linguistic minority in this country. And I think we should be proud of what we have."
There are 9,527 employees in the part of the civil service that includes government departments, compared to 11,615 in 2008.
The total civil service, which also includes the education and health systems, had 46,151 employees in 2012 compared to 48,292 in 2008.
The Department of Human Resources said as of March 31, 2012, 40 per cent of government workers were able to speak both official languages, 50 per cent could speak English only and five per could speak French only.
The provincial government uses a "team approach" when it comes to hiring new employees. Each department determines a linguistic profile for a team of employees and when a new person is being hired into that team, the department ensures the linguistic profile is met.
The New Brunswick government also must ensure citizens' rights provided under the Official Languages Act are respected.
New Brunswickers have the right to communicate and receive services from provincial institutions in the language of their choice.
Provincial institutions, such as government departments and hospitals, must also actively offer services to citizens in their language of choice.
Each year, the province’s Commissioner of Official Languages lists complaints received by the independent office detailing government departments and agencies that have failed to meet the law.
In 2012, a legislative committee reviewed the Official Languages Act behind closed doors, a decision that was widely criticized.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said that decision was wrong and he questioned how the province hires workers.
"This idea that 50 per cent of the workforce has to be bilingual, to me is just absolute overkill," he said.
"There's regions of the province where there's less than one per cent francophone and there's some francophone regions of the province, where there's a very small percentage who are anglophone. So we need to look at this based on region, based on demographics and a common sense approach."
The 2011 census showed English is the mother tongue of 65.4 per cent of New Brunswickers compared to 32 per cent who say their mother tongue is French.
In 2006, 64.3 per cent of New Brunswickers said their mother tongue was English compared to 32.3, who said their mother tongue was French.