New Brunswick

Languages commissioner concerned about ongoing 'resentment' toward bilingualism

Michel Carrier, New Brunswick’s interim official languages commissioner, says some New Brunswick anglophones still hold resentment over rights confirmed by New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act.

'There is always room for anglophones to work with the government'

'I think mostly disappointment that after 50 years of official languages we still seem to put focus on the few who still oppose it,' said Michel Carrier, New Brunswick's official languages commissioner.

Michel Carrier, New Brunswick's interim official languages commissioner, says some New Brunswick anglophones still hold resentment over rights confirmed by New Brunswick's Official Languages Act.

"There's still a misunderstanding," said Carrier.

"Resentment of having to accept rights given legally, constitutional rights given to the minority. I think it's very difficult for a majority to fully understand what this is about."

Carrier made the comments in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

The commissioner's comments come as New Brunswick's new Progressive Conservative government under Blaine Higgs attempts to earn the confidence of the legislature.

That confidence may come in the form of support of the three People's Alliance MLAs elected in September, elected from a party that many francophones believe is hostile to them and official bilingualism.

"People saw it as an insult," said Carrier.

"I think mostly disappointment that after 50 years of official languages we still seem to put focus on the few who still oppose it."

Jobs for anglophones

'There is always room for anglophones to work with the government,' said Carrier. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

New Brunswickers have a right to be served in their language of choice.

But this has been seen as leading to a public service hiring environment which makes it easier for francophones to get government jobs.

In 2016, 33.9 per cent of New Brunswickers were bilingual, according to Statistics Canada.

But when that is broken into the mother tongue of New Brunswickers, a wide gap appears.

More than 72 per cent of New Brunswickers whose mother tongue is French are bilingual, compared to 15.4 per cent of New Brunswickers whose first language is English.

But Carrier says it's incorrect to say that English speakers can't get government jobs.

"There is always room for anglophones to work with the government," he said.

Still, there are some jobs that anglophones will not be qualified to perform because of their lack of French-language skills.

"Now people are returning to government saying, 'I'm entitled to this job, I should have it. And regardless of the fact that I cannot meet the qualifications, that job is mine. I should have it and it's their fault,"' said Carrier.

"'Not my fault. Not because I hadn't taken advantage of what was offered to me when I was in school' or for whatever reason. And again I'm not criticizing. I'm just saying … take a close look at yourself and then participate in the debate."

Ambulance debate

Carrier said if the Higgs government were to ease language requirements on paramedics it 'could be perceived as a regression.' (CBC)

Another issue that has arisen around language is ambulance service.

Some New Brunswickers, including politicians, have said there would be better ambulance service in the province if paramedics weren't required to be bilingual.

Carrier said if the Higgs government were to ease language requirements on paramedics it "could be perceived as a regression," and technology like simultaneous translation wouldn't fix that.

"It's a matter of equality. And what I've been hearing is, 'Well look, you don't need to serve francophones the same way … just put a phone in their faces,'" said Carrier.

"Yeah, the guy's having a heart attack, put a phone in [his face] and ask how he feels and where it hurts."

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Carrier says that people are concerned about the province's finances, and future, and that can lead to people believing simplistic explanations about how bilingualism is to blame.

"Some politician will take advantage of it," said Carrier. "They will play this populist card."

Still, Carrier said people should be able to have conversations about bilingualism and how it's implemented and that those conversations don't mean someone is a bigot or racist.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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