Moncton polls businesses on bilingual signs

The City of Moncton is polling 200 businesses to assess the appetite within the corporate community to moving forward with a bilingual signs bylaw.

The City of Moncton is polling 200 businesses to assess the appetite within the corporate community for moving forward with a bylaw about bilingual business signs.

The neighbouring city of Dieppe passed the province's first such bylaw in May and pressure is mounting on Moncton's politicians to create a similar policy.

The city council has hired BBM Analytics to survey owners for their opinions on the importance of bilingual signs and whether the city should have its own bylaw.

Paul Thompson, the city's director of communications, said the results should be available to councillors in July.

"It does take a snap shot … an audit of the current situation among businesses in the community, but we also want to hear from them about their views going forward," Thompson said.

The study will also ask the business owners about their ability to offer bilingual service and what languages their current signage is in.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of all commercial signs are only in English.

Greater Moncton's population is 124,055 and according to the city's website 62 per cent of its citizens identify themselves as anglophones and 32 per cent are francophones.

When Moncton declared itself bilingual in 2002, it became Canada's only officially bilingual city.

Not reflecting community

Even as the poll is in the field, Thomson said there is room for improvement when it comes to bilingual signage in the southeastern New Brunswick city.

"Nobody can deny the fact that the commercial signage in our community does not reflect the linguistic make up of our community," Thompson said.

"Nobody can deny that."

City politicians are not the only ones checking in with local businesses about this.

The Chamber of Commerce is asking its members about the concept.

Lawrence Forbes, the president of Downtown Moncton Inc., said his group is also talking to its members to gauge the level of support for a new sign law.

Forbes said it's been on his mind since Dieppe passed its bylaw.

"Curiosity more than anything else, wanting to know how our stakeholders felt about it because it's not something that had been discussed very much until it came up in Dieppe," Forbes said.

No new costs

Martin Leblanc-Rioux, who has led the charge for bilingual sign bylaws in Dieppe and now Moncton, said it's time Moncton lives up to being the country's first officially bilingual city.

"We definitely believe that all new exterior commercial signs should be regulated because it incurs no new costs on businesses, nor on the city," he said.

"So that's just a win-win situation for everybody."

Dieppe's sign bylaw only applies to new commercial signs. In that city, signs must have French on either at the top of the sign, above the English text, or on the left of the sign with the English text on the right.

The bylaw will not apply to existing signs or the signs of chain stores.

The only groups that would be allowed to ask council for the right to put up French-only or English-only signs would be cultural or educational institutions, such as a school.

Other groups are speaking out in favour of the proposed sign law.

Gabrielle Viger, a member of the Acadian society, said the "rights of francophones are not being respected" in the city with the current signage practices.

Madeleine Arseneau, the president of the federation of francophone youth in the province, said the sign bylaw impacts young people living in the city.

"We are missing a part of this city because French language is not enough present in this city," Arseneau said.

"So that's probably the biggest problem for youth because they can't identify themselves to their language."