The Gallant government has unveiled a plan to build a more bilingual public service, but insists it will not come at the expense of employees who only speak one language.
Donald Arseneault, the New Brunswick minister responsible for official languages, says his government is committed to building a more bilingual public service.
“We’re not here to send anybody home or prevent anybody from getting a promotion,” he says.
The New Brunswick government released a similar report four years ago, which looked at areas including language training and the right of every civil servant to work in either French or English.
Arseneault says this there will be more accountability and more follow up done with individual departments this time.
“The first one I believe didn’t have the concrete measures in order to be accountable to know if we’re actually making progress,” says Arseneault.
The current report says it can be difficult, if not impossible, for employees to work in French if they choose to do so.
Katherine D’Entremont, the commissioner of official languages, says all senior civil servants should be fully bilingual in five years.
“Bilingualism becomes an essential competency,” she says. “It’s not a nice to have or add on. It’s essential qualification.”
Arseneault says that isn’t happening.
“I’m not to the point where are the language commissioner has said that she wants 100 per cent of our civil service to be bilingual,” he says.
The government report is being released as an important review gets underway: it will look at whether Canada’s only officially bilingual province has a constitutional obligation to provide separate school buses for French and English students.
“Almost all New Brunswickers have reconciled themselves to the fact this is officially a bilingual province,” says Saint Thomas University political scientist Tom Bateman.
Bateman says heightened debate about official languages isn’t a question of whether official bilingualism is right or wrong - it’s whether the province can afford it.
“The issue now concerns the details of policies that recognize these facts,” says Bateman. “When the issue is cost, the nature of the debate changes.”
Arseneault says he isn’t putting a timeline on achieving the report’s objectives.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Nick Moore.