Higgs’ description of Commissioner of Official Languages as “negative” off base: expert – New Brunswick
Premier Blaine Higgs’ description of the Official Languages Commissioner as a “negative” office shows a lack of understanding of the commissioner’s role, according to a constitutional languages expert.
Higgs made the comments while defending his decision to appoint Kris Austin to a committee to study the mandatory 10-year review of the Official Languages Act.
“It’s a very negative office, you know, usually finding fault with one person or another and wondering to what extent that provided a meaningful way forward,” he told reporters. tuesday.
Abolition of the office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is something Austin has advocated for as leader of the People’s Alliance Party, along with easing bilingual hiring requirements for paramedics and the civil service and the merger of the province’s two health authorities. Austin’s inclusion on the committee greatly irritated the province’s francophone groups.
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According to Érik Labelle Eastaugh, director of the International Observatory of Linguistic Rights at the Université de Moncton, Higgs’ comments about the official languages commissioner demonstrate a misunderstanding of the commissioner’s objective and, by extension, of the law.
“On the face of it, it is absurd to criticize this office on the basis that it is in negative quotes. I mean, the main function of the commissioner is to investigate complaints about breaches of the law,” he said.
“The prime minister appears to be critical of the very nature of the commissioner’s function, which suggests he does not fully understand or care why this office was created in the first place.”
The Official Languages Act ensures equal access to government services in the official language of one’s choice. The commissioner is there to investigate complaints and ensure that the government is held accountable for breaches.
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“If you eliminate the position… you’re just making it trivially easy for the government to violate people’s rights and I think that’s clearly the wrong way to go,” Labelle Eastaugh said.
This isn’t the first time Higgs has been accused of not understanding the act. The prime minister frequently engages in discussions about French immersion and French-second-language education when asked about the law by reporters. Education is explicitly not included in the law.
Higgs frequently laments the failure of the English school system to educate more bilingual students, but these societal and political issues have nothing to do with the Official Languages Act, which is intended solely to ensure the protection of a constitutional right. .
“The purpose of this law is not to solve all language problems in New Brunswick society, the purpose of this law is to ensure that the government, in particular, respects its fundamental constitutional obligation to provide services to francophones and anglophones. on an equal footing,” said Labelle Eastaugh.
“Given this specific objective, education is not really relevant. Education is sort of in its own silo in the constitution and in the legal framework here in New Brunswick, so to talk about education when discussing the Official Languages Act is nonsense.
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Higgs has also come under fire from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for Austin’s involvement in the government’s response to recommended improvements to the law. The prime minister said he wanted a diversity of opinions on the 10-member committee, but Trudeau said it was inappropriate to have someone with the opinions expressed by Austin in a decision-making position.
“You don’t put someone who has spent his entire career attacking official bilingualism and questioning the need to protect French in New Brunswick and elsewhere on a panel designed to strengthen bilingualism,” he said. he says.
The nomination came during a meeting between Higgs and Trudeau on Tuesday afternoon, which Higgs said he found surprising.
“How many Premiers get involved with Cabinet Ministers and caucus committees, only if they want to deflect the issue into something that people are talking about rather than the issues that really affect New Brunswickers,” said he declared.
The Mandatory 10-Year Review of the Official Languages Act was released in December 2021. It recommended that nursing homes gradually come within the scope of the Act and the creation of a stand-alone Department of Official Languages as well as of a standing committee of the Legislative Assembly. . Higgs promised a response to the report by the end of the year.
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