“My colleagues were fearful of asking questions because they’re concerned about the election year,” Coon said, alluding to the hot-button nature of language issues.
Article by: JOHN CHILIBECK
FREDERICTON • The idea of creating a new secretariat to ensure the equality of English and French is getting the cold shoulder from most politicians in the province.
Katherine d’Entremont, the province’s official languages commissioner, proposed the idea Wednesday. The independent officer of the legislature said she had investigated the provincial government’s plan on official languages and concluded it was not good enough.
“The plan has not resulted in any renewed progress toward the equality of both languages and both communities,” she told a committee of politicians at the legislature in Fredericton just after releasing her final annual report before her retirement.
“Our investigation revealed a major obstacle to the implementation of the plan. The lack of an adequate structure and adequate resources to support the premier in his primary responsibility – the administration of the Official Languages Act.”
The commissioner’s office launched an investigation after Premier Brian Gallant’s office submitted its first evaluation report on the plan in March 2017, with little fanfare.
But few of the politicians were willing to comment.
On Wednesday, the government arranged for reporters to speak to Brian Kenny, who, although not responsible for the law’s administration, was appointed by the premier as minister responsible for official languages in Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
“I have to review it, and like any responsible government, we can’t put an exact timeline on that. All I can say is we will review the information,” said Kenny
When d’Entremont appears before a legislative committee, the politicians normally pepper her with questions. This time no Liberal government members nor any of the Progressive Conservative who make up the official opposition asked a single thing. Only the Green Party’s David Coon asked d’Entremont about her recommendations.
He supports the idea of a secretariat, which he said would better focus the government’s efforts.
“My colleagues were fearful of asking questions because they’re concerned about the election year,” Coon said, alluding to the hot-button nature of language issues. “She tabled a good report, an interesting report, with good recommendations. And there was deafening silence from my colleagues. It was, I must say, a little embarrassing.”
Kenny dismissed Coon’s comment, saying it would be irresponsible to comment without first analyzing the report in its entirety. Brian Keirstead, a Tory member on the committee who took questions from reporters, agreed.
“There’s an awful lot in this report, it’s 86 pages,” said the politician who didn’t win his riding nomination in Albert and won’t be running for the Tories again in the September election.
Both the Liberal and Tories on committee asked hours of questions following the release of the auditor general’s report last week, a submission that was far longer.
D’Entremont, meanwhile, said her office hadn’t looked at potential costs of creating a new secretariat. She said civil servants from various departments could be reassigned to do the work as their top responsibility.
“It could be done without much cost,” she said. “We’re not thinking of a department of 50 people. There’s already a different secretariat in government with 17 people, and you wouldn’t need 17 to do the steps we are suggesting.”
The commissioner noted some “worrying trends” about the vitality of the French language, the mother tongue of one of three New Brunswickers.
Between 1971 and 2016, the percentage of people who speak French as their first language in the province has dropped two points, from about 34 to 32 per cent.
Francophones are also speaking French less often. In 2016, for instance, 6.6 per cent of francophones did not speak their mother tongue regularly at home, an increase from the 5.8 per cent a decade earlier.
MLA, Fredericton South and Leader, Green Party of NB