P.E.I. cabinet minister under fire for email response: 'I don't speak French'

An email response sent by P.E.I.'s Minister of Transportation Paula Biggar in which she told an Island resident, "I don't speak French" has led to a call for the minister to resign.

Transportation minister’s response contravenes French Language Services Act, opposition parties say

P.E.I.'s Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Paula Biggar rings the Acadian bell at the opening of École La-Belle-Cloche in Rollo Bay in May 2018. The Green Party is calling on the minister to resign after she responded to an email sent to her in French with: 'I don't speak French.' (François Dufault/Radio-Canada)

Four words sent in an email from P.E.I.'s Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Paula Biggar have led to a call for the minister to resign from cabinet.

Melanie Gallant said she sent emails in French to cabinet ministers calling on the province to provide funding for renovations to École Évangéline in Abrams Village.

Gallant posted what she said was the entirety of Biggar's response to Facebook: "I don't speak French"

"I sent letters of support for the project school renewal project to provincial ministers last night and here is an answer I received this morning, 😡" Gallant wrote in her post. "A good demonstration of ignorance!!!" 

Melanie Gallant is upset with the response she received from Paula Biggar after she sent emails to P.E.I. cabinet ministers seeking their support for funding for renovations at École Évangéline. (Facebook)

A government spokesperson said Biggar sent a second email later the same day, and was assisted with the translation. 

In the second email, the spokesperson said the minister told Gallant she had forwarded her correspondence to the minister of education, and said Biggar and other ministers will be offering to meet with Gallant.

But opposition parties said Biggar's initial response is in contravention of the province's French Language Services Act, passed in 2013, which states "where a government institution receives written correspondence in French, the government institution shall ensure that such correspondence is responded to, in writing, in French."

Minister should resign, say Greens

"This is a clear violation of Prince Edward Island'sFrench Language Services Act and indicates a shocking disrespect for the Island's Francophone community and their clearly established language rights under the Canadian Constitution," the Green Party said in a media release.

The Greens said Biggar should resign from cabinet and apologize to the province's Francophone community.

"The Minister may not speak French but there are many public servants who do and could have helped prepare a proper response," PC MLA Brad Trivers posted online.

"Government needs to make a better effort to live up to the spirit of its own law."

Both Trivers and the Green Party made their comments in both official languages.

Group calls for more awareness of law

On Thursday the Société Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin, a group which advocates for French-language rights on Prince Edward Island, issued a statement in French saying it had been contacted by several of its members regarding the email, calling the minister's response unacceptable.

The statement said the group would follow up with government, and said more awareness is needed among government officials of the requirement that correspondence received in French receive a reply in that language.

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.