PCs, Liberals, Greens open to a commission on bilingualism

The push for a commission examining why more New Brunswickers are not bilingual is picking up momentum as representatives from three political parties agreed that a deeper look at the issue may be needed.

CBC New Brunswick Political Panel discusses whether New Brunswick needs a commission on bilingualism

The first CBC New Brunswick Political Panel of 2019 discusses whether the province needs a commission on bilingualism.

Listen to the full CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast by downloading from the CBC Podcast page or subscribing to the podcast in iTunes

The push for a commission examining why more New Brunswickers are not bilingual is picking up momentum as representatives from three political parties agreed that a deeper look at the issue may be needed.

Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard has called on Premier Blaine Higgs and Education Minister Dominic Cardy to set up a strategic commission on bilingualism, with the goal of increasing the number of bilingual residents in the province.

The Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and Green Party agree that a commission is a good idea, but People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin doesn't believe there's tension between "average" anglophones and francophones.

Liberal MLA Robert McKee said the conversation about having a commission is important.

"If we want to break down the crux of the matter, it's why are so few anglophones becoming bilingual and I would agree with Mayor Simard's suggestion that education would be the means of enhancing bilingualism," said McKee.

He said the province should focus on the benefits of bilingualism by putting it in a positive light.

"When we talk about trying to increase bilingualism in the province, you know, I think we have to have a mutual respect between the communities and we have to be willing to have an open and frank discussion."

Education Minister Dominic Cardy says New Brunswick shouldn't just focus on the benefits of bilingualism.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the benefits of bilingualism are real, but he doesn't think that should be the province's focus.

"If I go to an unemployed man in Doaktown who was never given the opportunity to learn French and tell him that it's doing great things for the province, you tell me why he should take what you're saying seriously?" Cardy asked.

Cardy said he's not sure if a commission is needed, but he said the conversation regarding one is important. He said there's a lot of misunderstanding that could be cleared up by having open, straightforward discussions.

"If we're going to be bilingual, it's our responsibility as people and politicians to make sure that's actually a serious option that's available to people, which it isn't right now."

Cardy said tension between anglophones and francophones isn't the problem, but rather a "continued effort by the political class to not talk about [the failure to educate people in both languages]."

People's Alliance leader Kris Austin says he thinks there isn't any tension between anglophones and francophones in New Brunswick.

Austin said New Brunswick doesn't need a commission, although he said he's in favour of students learning more than one language.

"I think we've beat this thing to death," he said.

"On the other hand, if you're talking strictly about education, I think that's something that should be done by teachers. I think we need to get politicians out of that."

Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard believes New Brunswick needs a strategic commission looking at bilingualism. Is this needed? Education Minister Dominic Cardy, Liberal MLA Robert McKee, Green Leader David Coon and People's Alliance Kris Austin discuss Simard's idea in the latest political panel. 49:29

He said French immersion isn't having the intended effect and the province has done a "dismal" and "laughable" job over the years.

Austin is adamant that there's no tension between "francophones and anglophones of everyday makeup in New Brunswick.

"Frankly, I think this whole language thing is a lot of fabricated problems that don't exist," Austin said.

Green Party leader David Coon believes a commission on bilingualism is a good idea.

Green Party Leader David Coon disagreed. He said the commission is a good idea and "of course" there are language tensions in New Brunswick.

"We know that we need to be doing a much better job in terms of graduating students out of the public school system in terms of their capacity to even have a social conversation in French outside of the immersion program," Coon said.

Coon said it's understandable that there's growing fear in the francophone community in New Brunswick, and focusing on the benefits of bilingualism doesn't address those concerns.

"When you're a minority in a majority situation, in a sea of English, you obviously are going to feel far more threatened about the potential for assimilation, losing ground if hard-won rights are watered down and diminished."