New Brunswick

Katherine D'Entremont douses fire over commissionaire controversy

New Brunswick’s official languages commissioner appears to have partially extinguished the political fire that’s been raging around her for the last two weeks.

Official languages commissioner answered questions on Thursday from a committee of MLAs

A small crowd protested at the Legislature. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

New Brunswick's official languages commissioner appears to have partially extinguished the political fire that's been raging around her for the last two weeks.

Katherine d'Entremont took questions from a committee of MLAs for more than an hour on Thursday, explaining her handling of the Wayne Grant case.

And by the time it was over, the opposition Progressive Conservatives announced they supported her and would not introduce a motion to remove her from the job. 

D'Entremont was one of seven legislative officers or "watchdogs" who appeared before the committee to explain their roles, a get-to-know-us session scheduled long before the controversy over Grant.
Commissioner of Official Languages Katherine d'Entremont answered questions on Thursday over her handling of an investigation into the provision of security services in government buildings. (CBC)

Grant had his hours cut back in the spring after he was unable to provide service in French when d'Entremont approached the security desk at Chancery Place, the main government office building in downtown Fredericton.

On Thursday, d'Entremont repeated what she said at a press conference last Friday: that her letter notifying the province of her investigation of commissionaire services did not contain any recommendations.

"Do you tell them, `Here's what you should be doing?'" PC leader Bruce Fitch asked her.

"Absolutely not," d'Entremont answered.

And Miss Language Commissioner, you can investigate that!- protester

"So just to be perfectly frank, you didn't go and ask for Wayne Grant to be removed from his post?" Fitch asked.

"I did not."

Earlier, d'Entremont told the committee that she initiated the investigation herself because, despite her office investigating seven or eight complaints about security services over the years, the problems have continued.

"We need to take it upon ourselves to look into that, to dig deeper and find out what are the root causes." she said. 
A protest at the Legislature on Thursday drew people who want changes to the province's language laws. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Protest drew small crowd

The much-anticipated hearing was preceded by a small protest outside the Legislature. About 25 to 30 people carried signs demanding d'Entremont's resignation. Some were against bilingualism, while others said they supported bilingualism and merely wanted Grant's hours restored.

Many of the protestors attended the hearing, and during d'Entremont's presentation, several people coughed loudly and frequently, sometimes drowning out her words. At one point the Liberal committee chair, Hédard Albert, asked them to be quiet.

One woman interrupted a presentation by another legislative officer, Norm Bossé, to complain that a screen displaying the French version of his presentation was easier to see than the screen with the English version.

"And Miss Language Commissioner, you can investigate that!" the woman said before stalking out.

D'Entremont told the committee that 2013 amendments to the Official Languages Act give her the power to post investigation reports on her website.

She said about 12 such reports are now posted, and she told MLAs three of them were about cases where people weren't able to get provincial government services in English.

But the main focus of her appearance was the Grant case, "the elephant in the room" as Fitch called it.
PC MLA Madeleine Dubé told reporters her fellow Conservatives understand the process better now, and support the commissioner. ((CBC))

D'Entremont has been criticized for not disclosing in her initial notice letter to the government in May that the investigation was her own initiative. The letter referred to "the complainant."

She told MLAs Thursday her report on her investigation isn't finished yet, and that the report will make it clear it was her own initiative.

She also noted several times that MLAs themselves gave her the power to launch investigations herself when they passed the Official Languages Act.

D'Entremont's explanation to the committee appeared to give the PCs the pretext to shift their political focus to the Liberal government, particularly the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, which manages government buildings.

"Would you say DTI and [Grant's direct employer] the commissionaires jumped the gun, before you made your recommendations, to remove Wayne Grant?" Fitch asked her.

"Mr. Fitch, I respectfully suggest that you ask the department that question." 

Later, Attorney-General Serge Rousselle asked d'Entremont if it has ever happened in the past that a department had acted to improve bilingual service before she finished a report. She said it had.

Even so, PC MLA Madeleine Dubé told reporters after the meeting that her fellow Conservatives understand the process better now, and support the commissioner.

Dubé said the PCs will not introduced a motion to fire d'Entremont, the first time since the controversy began the party has made that clear.

The law says the languages commissioner can only be removed with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Dubé says the PCs will now focus on demanding the government account for its handling of Grant's work hours.

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