Government 'lags' behind public in bilingualism support

Michel Carrier says the Alward government is still not doing enough to preserve the vitality of the French language in the province, but the 'Save NB Now' group questions the costs involved.

Outgoing languages commissioner says bilingualism must go further

The commissioner of official languages says the Alward government is still not doing enough to preserve the vitality of the French language in the province.

After a decade on the job, Michel Carrier tabled his final annual report on Monday and he said more needs to be done for francophones.

Carrier said recent census data shows a slight, but steady decline, in the use of French in New Brunswick over the past 10 years.

"My conclusion is clear. We must continue to aim higher and go much further in order to achieve linguistic equality," Carrier said.

The 2011 census shed 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.

Carrier said he believes citizens are proud of New Brunswick’s position as the country’s only officially bilingual province. He also said more needs to be done to protect the French language.

"I don't think that most New Brunswickers see this as foolishness. They see it as something important, something that is part of our values and the government should act accordingly," he said.

"I have been told, on a few occasions by high officials in the government that sometimes government lags behind the willingness of the population to continue to move further."

Carrier also recommended the right of civil servants to work in the official language of their choice be included in the Official Languages Act.

However, the legislature’s select committee of MLAs looking at making revisions to the act did not include his recommendation in its recent report.

Carrier said the provincial government must simply do more to promote bilingualism in the senior public service.

"It's a situation that must be corrected. Furthermore, we must ask ourselves if it is still acceptable that in Canada's only officially bilingual province that senior positions continue to be filled by individuals who are not bilingual," he said.

Questioning spending

Jim Cougle, a spokesperson for a group called Save N.B. Now, which says its members are concerned about the provincial economy, said positions defined as bilingual almost always go to francophones.

Jim Cougle is questioning the need for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. (CBC)

"It should be done by proportional representation. Positions in all groups in the government should reflect the 33-66 distribution in the province," he said.

"There's no question that francophones should have a third of all positions at every level of government. Not a problem."

Cougle said the province may not even need a commissioner of official languages.

"And certainly if you were going to keep the office it should alternate between anglophone and francophone," he said.

He also said too much money is being spent on the commission.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages budget is $506,000 compared to $470 for the Office of the Consumer Advocate for Insurance. However, the Office of the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioner has a $597,000 budget.

The Office of the Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate has a $1.6-million budget and Elections New Brunswick has a $2.7-million budget.

Carrier is preparing to leave office after 10 years. His position has already been extended once.

The legislative assembly has not appointed a replacement.