MLAs question New Brunswick’s language duality
July 1st, 2011Glen Tait and Sherry Wilson question cost of duality in N.B’s. health and education sectors with province in financial crisis.
by shawn berry,Times & Transcript,Moncton, New Brunswickhttp://timestranscript.canadaeast.com/newstoday/article/1420284
FREDERICTON – Premier David Alward distanced himself yesterday from comments by two backbench Tories who questioned the cost of duality in New Brunswick’s health and education sectors.
“I was quite frankly disappointed with what I heard from the two members today. Their comments certainly do not reflect our platform commitments or the policy of our party,” Alward said yesterday by telephone.
“I have not spoken with them yet. I have left a message for the two members to call me. I want to hear directly from them.”
Saint John East MLA Glen Tait and Petitcodiac MLA Sherry Wilson declined to speak with reporters yesterday afternoon as they left a committee meeting.
During a hearing earlier in the day with the province’s Official Languages Commissioner, Michel Carrier, Tait questioned why there were both English and French-language schools and hospitals in the province and not bilingual institutions.
“This province is in a very terrible financial crisis. We hear most departments say they can’t stand any other cuts.
“It’s becoming very costly to offer duality services rather than bilingual services,” he said.
Wilson later told Carrier “I see that since I have been in government, some things are not affordable because of duality.”
She later asked if there might be a way to streamline some services, saying that a family member in her riding lives next door to a child for whom a bus is diverted 20 miles to send a child to a French-language school.
“It’s expensive, it isn’t affordable and it angers people,” Wilson told Carrier.
Carrier told them that putting languages services on the chopping block shouldn’t be seen as the solution to solve New Brunswick’s economic woes.
“You have got to look at bilingualism as something more than a burden,” he told Tait.
“It’s not an accounting position, it’s more of an ideological position,” Carrier said.
“As a party and a government we have a history of supporting our constitutional obligations and also the spirit of building the equality of our two linguistic communities on a service and cultural level,” the premier said.
To date, the Alward government has steered clear of any major controversy over New Brunswick’s status as Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
The government recently named a committee of legislators to review the province’s Official Languages Act. That review is to be complete by next year.
The premier said the government has held caucus briefings for members outlining the government’s obligations under New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Carrier said that while hospitals and other health facilities may operate as anglophone or francophone institutions, he said they all have a responsibility to afford services in either official language.
But he said even he has had trouble accessing French-language medical services.
Carrier also said no one talks about cutting services to other groups in the province – like senior citizens.
While talking to MLAs, Carrier said he feels his office is sometimes misunderstood.
“My job is that of an advocate. I’m a watchdog, but I’m not mean-spirited or an angry person,” he said.
“The Official Languages Act was never created to make people bilingual. But it has created an opportunity to allow people to become bilingual if they choose to.”
Wilson highlighted cases where a family member and an acquaintance did not qualify for jobs because they were not bilingual.
Carrier told the committee that it is a myth that one needs to be bilingual to work for the government.
At least six out of every 10 positions in government and Crown corporations are designated unilingual, he said.
Wilson also said there are concerns about the fact that the Official Languages Act has been used by some to try to avoid fines.
She pointed to one specific example cited during the hearing where a driver tried to challenge a speeding ticket because the police officer did not make an active offer to serve him in the official language of his choice.
“If you’re speeding, in French or English, you should get a ticket,” she said.
The driver in question in the 2008 case cited yesterday was Paul Robichaud, now the province’s deputy premier. Though the judge agreed his rights were violated, Robichaud’s challenge of the ticket – because the officer didn’t offer to serve him in English – was dismissed and Robichaud was fined.
Robichaud said last year that he challenged the ticket in a bid to ensure every New Brunswicker was offered the right to access service in either official languages. More recently, some impaired driving cases have been thrown out because officers didn’t make an offer of service. One case has been appealed by the province.
Carrier said there’s a knee-jerk reaction that happens in some quarters when it comes to New Brunswick’s linguistic reality.
“You can’t start by saying that bilingualism is one of the culprits of our economic situation,” he said.