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'It’s a catastrophe': Census numbers show decline in French in N.B.


The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick said 2021 census data demonstrates “worrying trends” for the province’s French speaking population.

In her annual report, Shirley MacLean stated the percentage of New Brunswickers speaking predominantly French at home has dropped from 28 per cent in 2016 to 26.4 per cent in 2021.

Only 29.5 per cent of residents in the province have French as their mother tongue, a two per cent decline.

“These numbers point to a slow erosion of French as a first language in New Brunswick,” said MacLean at a news conference in Fredericton Monday morning. “This should be concerning to all New Brunswickers no matter which linguistic community they are part of. The vitality of our province’s two official linguistic communities is integral to our collective culture and identity.”

The numbers have Acadian activist Jean-Marie Nadeau very concerned.

“You know, in 1960 we were 38 per cent and if we are at 26 per cent, it's a catastrophe. It’s very sad,” said Nadeau.

MacLean was critical of the New Brunswick government during her opening remarks.

She said the federal government made strides when it reviewed the official languages act two years ago, but the province did not.

“In New Brunswick we had that same opportunity to enhance and strengthen our official languages act but we did not take advantage of it,” said MacLean. “This missed opportunity comes at an unfortunate time as the 2021 census results confirmed the worrying trend for the official linguistic minority.”

The report also stated the office of the Commissioner received 97 admissible complaints between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Eighty-seven of those alleged a lack of service in French while 10 were for a lack of service in English.

One investigation in the report showed the vulnerability of patients in medical situations.

MacLean’s office received complaints about seven separate incidents at Horizon and Vitalite health network facilities where a patient did not receive mental health forms in the language of their choice.

That’s worrisome to Liberal health critic Rob McKee, who is fluently bilingual and has Acadian roots.

“One is too many when people are in a health care crisis they need to get the services that they need and they should be able to communicate in the language of their choice, the official language of their choice to obtain those,” said McKee.

MacLean finds any health-care complaint concerning.

“There can be a lack of understanding and when I'm talking about a lack of understanding I'm not meaning empathy, I mean there can be occasions when someone doesn't understand, isn't able to communicate what their health issue is,” said MacLean.

McKee, who speaks French in his home, said the numbers in Monday’s report surprised him and the provincial government should be pushing for more Francophone newcomers to come to the province.

“There should be an emphasis to preserve our cultural heritage, to emphasize Francophone immigration,” said McKee. “I think it is important that we have a government and a premier that values the shared equal diverse linguistic communities that we have in this province.”  

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