New Brunswick

Government rejects call for all senior bureaucrats to be bilingual

New Brunswick's official languages commissioner is calling for bilingualism to be a requirement for all senior public service positions in the province, but the minister responsible for official languages says that's not going to happen.

Katherine d'Entremont recommends top 328 positions in public service require both English and French

The New Brunswick government will not act on the commissioner of official language's recommendation that all senior civil servants be bilingual by 2020, says the minister responsible for official languages.

Donald Arseneault, the minister responsible for official languages, says senior civil servants take a team approach, making bilingualism for all positions unnecessary. (CBC)
"I will not put, and our government will not put, a policy in place for that to happen," Donald Arseneault said in response to the commissioner's report, released on Thursday.

The government will, however, continue to offer employees the opportunity for language training, said Arseneault.

"I think it's important, we see the benefits of it, but we want to work with our civil servants," he said.

"We don't have to have 100 per cent of our civil servants, including our senior civil servants, being fully bilingual."

In her 2014-15 annual report, Katherine d'Entremont calls for bilingualism to be a requirement for all senior public service positions in the province, saying it should be imperative for the top 328 positions in the public service to be filled by bilingual people.

"These leaders perform duties requiring constant interaction with members of the two linguistic communities," d'Entremont states in her report.

Having bilingual leaders also enables people to work in their language of their choice, she stated.

"Senior public servants supervise anglophone and francophone employees. Therefore, they have to be able to communicate with them in their language."

Senior public servants supervise anglophone and francophone employees. Therefore, they have to be able to communicate with them in their language.- Katherine d'Entremont, commissioner of official languages

​D'Entremont considers deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and employees in pay bands eight to 12 to be senior public servants.

That amounts to 328 positions in the so-called part 1 of the public service, or about three per cent of the 9,204 people employed in that category of public service employees.

The report says 159 of those 328 positions are currently held by bilingual public servants.

The finance department has the lowest percentage of its senior positions held by bilingual people at 11 per cent, with only two of 19 senior employees meeting the bilingual standard. The departments of education and economic development both have 100 per cent of top positions filled by bilingual people.

Unilingualism 'significant impediment'

"In a province with two official language communities, unilingualism of senior public servants is a significant impediment," states the report. "Indeed, unilingual executives are unable to manage some employees in their language of their choice.

"Moreover, unilingualism may greatly compromise clear communication between senior public servants and their ministers."

Katherine d'Entremont's annual report as commissioner of official languages calls for senior legislative officers and senior public servants to be bilingual as a job requirement. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)
Arsenault contends complete bilingualism is unnecessary. 

"We work as a team approach. We have more than half of our senior civil servants [with] bilingual capacity and that will continue," said Aresenault.

D'Entremont declined a request by CBC News to respond to Arseneault's comments, but in her report, she framed the issue as one of workplace culture. 

​"Senior public servants set the culture in a workplace. They are the leaders. And I don't know what organizations you may have worked in, but if leadership from the top does not demonstrate the value of the organizations, then it's hard to do that from the lower levels," she said.

Bilingualism essential

An officially bilingual province should view bilingualism as essential in public service leadership, according to the report.

D'Entremont recommends that over the next four years, all competitions for senior positions include a requirement to speak and understand both official languages with level 3 oral ability in the second language, or a requirement to attain that level within three years.

She also recommends that the ability to speak and understand both official languages be made a requirement for those 328 senior positions, beginning in 2020.

Public servants aspiring to lead employees from the two linguistic communities would thus know that they cannot expect such privilege if they do not speak English and French.- Katherine d'Entremont, commissioner of official languages

"Bilingualism should be stated as an essential competency for those aspiring to high level positions in the public service," she states. "Public servants aspiring to lead employees from the two linguistic communities would thus know that they cannot expect such privilege if they do not speak English and French.

"Public servants wishing to influence the future of this province would know that, in order to fulfil that role, they have to speak both of the official languages of New Brunswick."

The languages commissioner is not calling for unilingual senior public servants to be removed from their roles.

"The commissioner realizes that such a process must respect the fact that many unilingual senior public servants moved into their current positions when bilingualism was not required. Those employees must therefore be able to remain in their positions.

"In addition, unilingual senior public servants should be offered intensive second-language training in order to qualify for other senior management positions if they wish."

D'Entremont also calls for legislative officers, such as the child and youth advocate and ombudsman, be declared to be bilingual positions. In 2013, competitions were held to fill both positions and while the successful candidates turned out to be bilingual, there was no such requirement.

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