We have many reasons to be proud of our province. This pride of belonging resonates in all regions of New Brunswick for a variety of reasons: our quality of life, our cultural diversity, our many natural wonders, our warm and welcoming people.
We should all also be proud that our province is the only one to recognize French and English as its two official languages. In fact, New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act, first passed in 1969, was even passed before the federal Official Languages Act. In this regard, we are true pioneers across the country. There is, however, a great deal of ignorance about the Official Languages Act and official bilingualism in New Brunswick.
On the eve of the re-opening of Parliament in Fredericton, I call on our legislators, both seasoned and new, to defend the language rights for all New Brunswickers. Language rights in our province go beyond simple rights; they are obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
According to the provisions of the Charter, French and English are the official languages of New Brunswick and they have equal status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Legislature and of the Government of New Brunswick. .
The Canadian constitution also confirms the power of the New Brunswick legislature and government to promote the advancement of equality of status, rights and privileges of the two official languages of our province.
Although it falls within my mandate to investigate, present reports and make recommendations aimed at ensuring compliance with the Official Languages Act, my role is also to promote the advancement of both official languages in the province. That said, it is also incumbent on our provincial legislators to promote the advancement of our two official languages as enshrined in the Charter.
It is easy to see a linguistic divide in our province today. As Bernard Richard said so well in an editorial about New Brunswick’s two linguistic communities following the September 14 elections: “The reality remains that we do not know each other well and that we do not understand each other. . ” It is with this in mind that I invite our elected provincial officials to set an example to follow and learn about the legislative framework for official languages in our province, and in addition to go even further and revisit and seek to understand the cultural history that led to the creation of a bilingual New Brunswick.
In short, we must not simply understand language rights, but also understand why these rights exist. The 60th New Brunswick legislature, which will begin in the coming days, presents a golden opportunity for our legislators to demonstrate a real commitment to language rights.
The last revision of the New Brunswick Official Languages Act in 2013 requires a revision of the latter no later than December 31, 2021. This revision exercise will allow Members of Parliament to survey New Brunswickers and experts in the field. to identify the legislative changes necessary to ensure respect for English and French as official languages and to ensure the equality of status and equal rights and privileges of the official languages with regard to their use in all the institutions of the province.
The Official Languages Act has almost total primacy over the other laws of our province. This status reflects the importance accorded to language rights within our legislative framework.
Revising the Official Languages Act is a task fraught with responsibilities that will require diligent and persistent work. We will have to know how to refute the “common sense” discourse and improve the law in order to protect the interests of our linguistic communities. We must seek to improve the act to ensure that the government respects its constitutional obligations towards our two official languages.
Because it is by advancing the equal use of French and English in the institutions of the province that we will contribute to the vitality of our official languages, and more particularly to the vitality and protection of the French language which is found in a minority situation almost everywhere in the province. It is high time we got to understand each other in New Brunswick.
The different political ideologies will continue to exist indefinitely, and certain regions of our province will remain basically more French-speaking or more English-speaking, there is nothing new there. However, all of our elected representatives must recognize the merits and importance of the Official Languages Act. This recognition from the seat of democracy in New Brunswick can only promote the progress of respect for our two official linguistic communities, and contribute to the vitality of our two official languages.
Shirley C. MacLean, QC,
Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick