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New Brunswick premier says being unilingual in a bilingual province makes him 'a target'

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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says being unilingual in a bilingual province makes him a target on issues of official languages.

Higgs made the suggestion on Monday and Tuesday while offering his government’s response to a review of the Official Languages Act, first issued a year ago.

“I know the challenges that have existed for me as a unilingual Anglophone,” Higgs told reporters on Monday. “I know the criticism that I’ve taken on a regular basis. Criticism that I feel has been unjust in many ways because it’s not based on a reality. It’s based on the fact I don’t speak both official languages.”

Higgs said it was a feeling shared by “a lot” of unilingual Francophone and Anglophone residents in the province.

“And I don’t want other people to go through that. I’m trying desperately to find a way that no one has to experience what I’ve experienced in the province that I love.”

Higgs’ comments were dismissed by members of the opposition on Tuesday, who claimed the premier was trying to portray himself as a victim in the midst of controversies about French immersion and language committee appointments.

“I find it very pitiful,” said Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau, who questioned how Higgs had specifically been targeted for being unilingual.

“He’s worked in his language of choice his whole career,” said Arseneau. “He’s become minister of finance. He’s become premier of the province. He comes to Fredericton and is able to work in the language of his choice all the time.”

Liberal leader Susan Holt said Higgs’ comments were “unfortunate.”

“He’s in an extremely privileged position and we’re talking about minorities that are experiencing discrimination and a lack of access to services,” said Holt. “I think it’s pretty rich to claim 'woe is me' at a time like this.”

Higgs was asked to expand on his comments after Tuesday's question period.

“Look, I’ve been criticized since I started,” said Higgs. “I think one of the first headlines that came out when I became leader was ‘Tories elect White Anglo-Saxon English speaking Protestant.’ That’s quite a handle, right?”

“It’s been an ongoing issue and I guess I take it for what it is and appreciate that I’m a target in many ways. So, it’s one more. But it does bring the reality to what we face here in New Brunswick in many ways and I think we can find a path through this.”

Higgs is a former 1989 leadership candidate for the now-defunct Confederation of Regions Party, which opposed official bilingualism in New Brunswick. 

Higgs was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2010, later becoming PC leader in 2016 and premier in 2018.

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