New Brunswick

New Brunswick less bilingual than reported, corrected census figures show

New Brunswick is a bit less bilingual than previously reported, Statistics Canada announced Thursday after discovering a computer error.

Statistics Canada releases new data after computer error involving mother tongue responses discovered

Statistics Canada released corrected figures from the 2016 census on Thursday after discovering a computer error that inflated the number of English speakers in Quebec. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

New Brunswick is a bit less bilingual than previously reported, Statistics Canada announced Thursday after discovering a computer error.

About 249,950 New Brunswickers can speak both English and French, the revised 2016 census figures show.

That's about 500 fewer people than the data released on Aug. 2 indicated, said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, who is responsible for the agency's language statistics program.

There are about 1,100 more unilingual French-speakers (63,145), according the the corrected figures, he said.

But the proportion of the province's population that reports speaking both official languages remains relatively unchanged at 33.9 per cent, rather than 34 per cent.

The only time New Brunswick's bilingualism rate was higher was in 2001, when it stood at 34.2 per cent, said Corbeil.

The figures were recalculated after it was discovered that roughly 61,000 Canadians who reported French as their mother tongue were originally incorrectly classified as English speakers, Corbeil explained.

The language-related questions in the census are the only ones where the response categories are different on the English and French forms, he said.

English appears first on the English forms for questions about mother tongue, language spoken at home and knowledge of official languages, and French appears first on the French forms.

But the distinction was not taken into account by a new computer program used for followups on incomplete responses.

The order of language was flipped depending on whether the form was filled out in French or English, leading to the computer's counting error. (CBC)

"Given that 95 per cent of the individuals affected by the error live in Quebec, we're really talking about a small fraction in New Brunswick," Corbeil said. "It's really marginal."

Still, the census information helps inform government planning and funding decisions, Marc Hamel, director general of the census popular program, said at a technical briefing Thursday morning. 

"So we want to make sure that people can rely on these results," he said.

Frédérick Dion, executive director of l'Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick, said he's pleased to see the New Brunswick errors were corrected.

"But I don't think the big picture really changed," he said.

Concerns about French language unchanged

Dion previously expressed concerns about the province's growing bilingualism rate, up from 33.2 per cent during the last census in 2011.

He still questioned whether the increase in bilingualism might be due to the gradual assimilation of francophones.

"We need to see who's more bilingual now," whether more anglophones are learning French, or more francophones are learning English, said Dion.

His group, which consists of 53 francophone and bilingual municipalities, representing nearly 300,000 people — more than a third of the province's population — now plans to take a closer look at the numbers and talk to the provincial and federal governments.

"They have a responsibility to help to improve the equality of languages in Canada and New Brunswick," he said.

The office of New Brunswick's Commissioner of Official Languages, Katherine d'Entremont, did not respond to a request for an interview.

On Aug. 2, spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told CBC News the office would "carefully analyze the data prior to commenting publicly."

The corrected number of New Brunswickers who reported speaking French-only last year was 63,145, or 8.6 per cent — down from 66,380, or nine per cent, in 2011.

The number of English-only respondents was 420,820, or 57.2 per cent, which also represents a decrease from 426,675, or 57.7 per cent, five years earlier.

In Quebec, the corrected census figures show the share of English-only speakers decreased to 7.5 per cent from 7.7 per cent in 2011 — not increased, as previously reported.

Quebec's bilingualism rate is also lower than was initially thought, at 44.5 per cent, not 44.9 per cent.

The share of Canadians who are bilingual is 17.9 per cent, rather than 18 per cent.

​The computer errors came to light when a prominent Quebec demographer questioned the results.