The legislative committee reviewing the Official Languages Act has released its report, which includes 42 recommendations.
Among them, it suggests provisions be added to the act that would require the provincial government to adopt a comprehensive plan, with clear objectives and timeframes, for meeting its linguistic obligations.
New Brunswickers have until May 17 to provide feedback on the recommendations, which cover various aspects of the public service, including the administration of justice, policing services, signage and early childhood services.
"The Official Languages Act is the most important social contract with which New Brunswickers have provided themselves," committee chair Justice Minister and Attorney General Marie-Claude Blais said in a statement.
"The committee's recommendations are intended to foster the vitality of the two official linguistic communities in New Brunswick."
Other recommendations in the 50-page report include:
- Giving municipalities clear power on making bylaws regarding signage in their territory.
- Bringing daycares under the province's dual education system, with a "reasonable" transition period.
- Expanding the powers of the official languages commissioner and requiring government departments subject to a complaint to provide a written response.
- Defining "reasonable time" with regard to the obligation for police forces to provide services in both official languages.
- Clarifying the requirements for third parties hired by the government to provide services on its behalf.
- Bringing professional associations, such as the Law Society and College of Physicians and Surgeons, under the provisions of the act.
- Amending the Official Languages Act to bring it in line with the Regional Health Authorities Act.
Liberal MLA Hédard Albert said he realizes some of the suggestions, such as the one on policing, won't go far enough for some people.
"In that report, we want them to have plan," he said.
The report also recommends the next review of the Official Languages Act be completed in eight years. A review is currently required every 10 years.
The select committee, which is made up of Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs, came under fire last fall for working behind closed doors.
Although members of the public could respond to four questions on the legislative assembly's website, citizens were not allowed to sit in and listen on the discussions.
Blais had defended the decision to hold the meetings in secret. "This is not an easy subject. We all know in past history how this can bring out — people have different positions, there's a spectrum of positions," she had said.
Language hearings in 1984 were heated and included an egg being thrown at the committee.
The four questions asked during public consultations were:
- In your opinion, what services should be specified in the Official Languages Act?
- In your opinion, how can we ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act?
- In your opinion, how does the Commissioner of Official Languages, in performing his duties, contribute to ensuring compliance with the Official Languages Act?
- The status of New Brunswick as an officially bilingual province is enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. In your opinion, how can New Brunswickers be better informed about this?
The Official Languages Act was last revised in 2002. It was passed in 1969.