New Brunswick

Official languages commissioner prefers a public review of N.B's language law

New Brunswick’s official languages commissioner says she’d prefer to see a review of the province’s language law unfold in public, and without other issues such as education being part of the discussion.

Shirley MacLean says she had no say on decision to hold review behind closed doors

Shirley MacLean, the New Brunswick commissioner of official languages, says that in order to have a full discussion of the Official Languages Act, the hearings should happen in public. (Radio-Canada)

New Brunswick's official languages commissioner says she'd prefer to see a review of the province's language law unfold in public, and without other issues such as education being part of the discussion.

Shirley MacLean told a committee of MLAs on Tuesday that she wasn't consulted on the review process and had no control over what the Higgs government chose to do. 

But she said she would have preferred to see at least part of the consultation take place in public view. 

"I think the public today expects that things happen transparently," said MacLean, who is in her first year in the job of commissioner. "For a full discussion it should be a public discussion.

"Maybe part of it can be public, part of it not … but a full discussion, in my view, would take place in public."

Premier Blaine Higgs announced in early January that he would choose two commissioners to conduct a 10-year review of the Official Languages Act, a process that is required by the law itself.

Premier Blaine Higgs added a discussion around why anglophone schools don't graduate more bilingual students to the Official Languages Act review. (CBC)

Despite calls for a public process from organizations ranging from the Acadian Society of New Brunswick to the People's Alliance, Higgs said consultations would happen behind closed doors. 

He said that would allow "an open conversation where everybody is able to participate without any external pressure of any kind."

Higgs has also asked the commissioners to examine why more graduates of anglophone schools in the province aren't fluent in French, even though that is not an issue covered by the language law.

The province's dual school systems, one English and one French, do not have the obligation to provide bilingual service and operate outside the reach of the Official Languages Act. 

Critics say adding education issues to the review will take away from the ability to focus on the act itself.

Liberal MLA Isabelle Theriault says the broadened mandate to look at the French immersion program dilutes the review process. (Twitter.com)

"When the mandate broadens like that, everything's diluted," Caraquet Liberal MLA Isabelle Thériault said Tuesday.

MacLean agreed.

"I would have preferred that the review would have happened without a discussion about education," she said.

"They are two completely different things because the Official Languages Act does not touch on education."

But she acknowledged she has no say on the process, and her input will be limited to making submissions to the commissioners. 

"He wants a discussion on education and bilingualism," she said. "That's his choice at the end of the day." 

In her annual report released in December, MacLean recommended the province amend the Official Languages Act to clarify the obligations of police departments to comply and to give public servants the right to work in the official language of their choice.

She also recommended changes to give the province a 30-day time limit to respond to her investigations and to give her office the power to sign enforcement agreements with government institutions that violate the act regularly. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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