Two Progressive Conservatives MLAs issued a detailed apology on Tuesday for questioning the role of duality in provincial services last week during a committee hearing.
Saint John East MLA Glen Tait and Petitcodiac MLA Sherry Wilson issued the statement on Tuesday, hours after the New Brunswick's Acadian society called on Premier David Alward to force the two Tory MLAs to apologize.
The MLAs said in the statement that their questions to Michel Carrier, the province's official languages commissioner, "were not in keeping with our government and our party's entrenched fundamental belief that New Brunswick is a bilingual province and people should be served in the language of their choice."
"We are sorry and regret asking questions about linguistic duality and official bilingualism within our government institutions," the statement said.
The MLAs apologized directly to Alward, other MLAs, Carrier and people in both linguistic communities.
Further, Tait and Wilson detailed their party's history in support of the Official Languages Act.
"We are certainly proud of the diverse cultural and linguistic fabric of New Brunswick and of our role as the only bilingual province in the country," the statement said.
The two MLAs said during the committee meeting that they questioned the need for French- and English-language hospitals and schools considering the province's dire financial situation.
Wilson said she believed some programs were not affordable because of duality.
Liberals call comments 'troubling'
Roger Melanson, the Liberal Francophonie critic, said he was pleased the MLAs had apologized.
"The comments from Ms. Wlison and Mr. Tait were very troubling to us and all New Brunswickers who support official bilingualism," he said.
"We hope they and the Conservative Party have learned their lesson. We don't want to see a repeat of the divisiveness that occurred when the Confederation of Regions was borne out of the ranks of the Conservative Party two decades ago."
New Brunswick has duality in the Department of Education, which means there is a separate English and French system.
There is, however, no policy of official duality in the Department of Health.
Citizens do have the right to communicate with hospital staff in the official language of their choice.
Full text of apology issued by PC MLAs Glen Tait and Sherry Wilson:
We would like to offer sincere apology for the comments and line of questions during the Legislative Officers committee hearing with the Official Languages Commissioner last week. During this process we engaged in a line of questions which were not in keeping with our government and our Party’s entrenched fundamental belief that New Brunswick is a bilingual province and people should be served in the language of their choice. We are sorry and regret asking questions about linguistic duality and official bilingualism within our government institutions.
In our Aims & Principles, our Party states: Equality of the Two Linguistic Communities: We believe the diversity of our two linguistic communities is a unique strength of our province. We believe in official bilingualism, and that we must protect and promote the cultures and heritage, while treating each community with fairness and justice.
We regret any concern that our comments have raised and we certainly did not mean any disrespect toward any New Brunswicker. We regret any distress our comments may have caused to our Premier, our colleagues at the Legislature, the Commissioner of the Official Languages and people of both linguistic communities.
Our government is proud of the important role we have played in the evolution of the Official Languages Act from its inception in 1969, to the recognition of both official linguistic communities, to its entrenchment in the Canadian Constitution, to the modernization of the Act in 2002.
Next year, Premier David Alward will join Premiers Hatfield and Lord who have work to improve and advance our two linguistic communities. Premier Alward will update the Official Language Act to move our society ahead in assuring a real equality among the two linguistic communities of New Brunswick.
The Official Languages Act is an integral part of our province’s history and will continue to make us stronger into the future. We will continue to champion a society that not only supports official bilingualism, but strengthens the culture and traditions of our two linguistic communities of New Brunswick.
We have recently approved the plan on Official Languages entitled "Official Bilingualism – A Strength". To emphasize the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act an Interdepartmental Committee was set up whose mandate is to coordinate all government activities related to official languages and to develop a strategy to implement government’s official languages obligations.
The plan is part of a continuing process to increase the capacity of the public service to meet government’s obligations as they relate to the Official Languages Act and other legal linguistic obligations.
The Official Languages Act states that English and French are the two official languages of New Brunswick and that they have equality of status and equal rights and privileges.
As New Brunswickers, we are proud of the progress that we have accomplished in advancing the vitality of our two official languages. We must continue to move forward together in order to foster a better understanding of our collective identity.
We are certainly proud of the diverse cultural and linguistic fabric of New Brunswick and of our role as the only bilingual province in the country.
Through a deeper understanding of our cultural realities and the richness of our two official languages, New Brunswickers will embrace our identity and value its importance in strengthening our Province and making New Brunswick a place of which we are proud and where each of us believes we truly belong.
Glen Tait-MLA for Saint-John East
Sherry Wilson-MLA for Petitcodiac.