New Brunswick

Bilingualism forum touches on anglophone input, education

A standing-room-only crowd came to a town hall discussion in Moncton on Tuesday about anti-bilingualism, but one panellist said he wished some anglophones had turned up.
Eight panellists spoke before members of the public had a chance to weigh in. (CBC)

A standing-room-only crowd turned out for a forum in Moncton on Tuesday about anti-bilingualism, but one panellist said he wished more anglophones had turned up.

Organizers said francophones felt a rise in anti-bilingual sentiment in recent months, and they wanted to start discussions about bridging the gap with other New Brunswickers.

More than 100 people attended the event at Le Coude bar at the University of Moncton. There was such interest in the discussion that some people were turned away at the door.

The attendees included politicians from various parties, leaders of interest groups, university professors, students and members of the general public.

But there appeared to be no one from the anglophone community, something organizers are hoping to change for future gatherings. 

"Where are the anglophone intellectuals, the university professors, the community leaders?" asked history professor Maurice Basque, one of the eight panellists at the event. 

"Since the beginning, bilingualism has been the fight of Acadians. It's not like the environment that's everyone's battle. We're not there yet. After half a century, are we to realize that it is our 'problem?' 

"It's a failure of sorts."

Although promotion of the forum didn't target anglophone groups, the event was open to the public. It was organized by the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, the university's school of public policy, the New Brunswick Acadian Society and the International Network of Senghor Chairs of La Francophonie.

It was standing room only at the university bar Le Coude in Moncton for a town hall discussion about anti-bilingualism. (CBC)

Basque said the discussion was a good exercise, and more people came than organizers were expecting. 

He believes future forums should involve the anglophone community.

"I always felt I would be interested to hear what my colleagues at Mount Allison, at UNB, St. Thomas — what do they think, what are their ideas?" he said.

"After these 50 years, can we arrive at a new consensus? Can we arrive maybe at a new social contract between anglophones and Acadians?" 

Education talk

Maurice Basque said he would like to know what anglophones think about the issue. (CBC)

During the panel, there was talk about New Brunswick's education system, and whether there is a better way for anglophones to learn French.

"We know there's an interest from the anglophone population to learn French, be it by curiosity or because they see it as an important skill," said Stephanie Chouinard, assistant professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

There was some debate whether changes need to be made to the education system or if the changes should be outside the classrooms.

"Obviously, it goes through education first, and immersion programs are fundamental to this, but that's not sufficient. I think cultural exchanges would be another way … to put flesh around the bone in a sense, to get them invested in our culture."

Stephanie Chouinard said education is an important part of the solution, and cultural exchanges would help. (CBC)

Chouinard said francophones have a role to play too.

"We know we all have a tendency to switch to English when an anglophone addresses us in French — that's a bad habit. We should try to help them and engage with them in that language."

Tuesday's event was the first of what organizers hope will be several discussions around the province to better understand what they call the "anti-bilingual feeling" and try to find solutions. 

In a news release after the discussion, panellist and co-organizer Christophe Traisnel said francophones need to make themselves heard and "to fight against being bullied as a community." 

Other panellists were Joseph Yvon Thériault, Isabelle Violette, Mathieu Wade, Michelle Landry and Érik Labelle Eastaugh.

Another forum is planned for Sunday in Inkerman, on the Acadian Peninsula.