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New survey indicates 81 per cent support official bilingualism in New Brunswick

New Brunswick

A new survey indicates 81 per cent of New Brunswickers support the law that makes French and English official languages in the province -- the only such legislation in Canada.

The survey, released Monday by the province's commissioner of official languages, questioned 800 adult residents last October. Commissioner Shirley MacLean says the results are encouraging and reveal that support for the 1969 Official Languages Act hasn't changed since her office's last survey in 2009.

"Support is nearly unanimous among francophone New Brunswickers, at 95 per cent, and almost three-quarters of anglophone New Brunswickers support bilingualism, at 73 per cent," MacLean told a news conference in Fredericton.

She said there was support for the law in every region of the province.

New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada, with French and English as official languages.

More than 90 per cent of respondents said it's important to have second-language training in schools and that language training for adults should be free.

MacLean, however, said a myth persists that there is a preference for francophones or bilingual individuals when it comes to government job opportunities. While there are some bilingual positions, she said, the legislation does not require all government jobs to be filled by bilingual people.

"Over 50 per cent of the employment opportunities advertised with the government of New Brunswick were classified as unilingual anglophone," she said. "Yet the myth that all government jobs are bilingual persists."

MacLean said a promotional campaign will be launched over the next year to increase awareness of language rights.

Last week, the People's Alliance of New Brunswick -- a political party that had advocated for the elimination of separate English and French health authorities -- was deregistered, and its two elected members joined the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Blaine Higgs.

The People's Alliance had also raised the ire of francophones in the province by calling for the closure of the office of the official languages commissioner.

When asked Monday to comment on the government's decision to welcome two former People's Alliance members, MacLean said that as an independent officer of the legislature, she couldn't make a political statement on the issue.

"I believe all politicians, and especially the members in government, have a responsibility to support -- or should support -- the progress towards real equality for both linguistic communities," she said. "Those rights are enshrined in the Official Languages Act."

The survey results came after the release of a report in February that looked at second-language education in New Brunswick.

That report, by provincial court Judge Yvette Finn and former deputy education minister John McLaughlin, said New Brunswickers need opportunities to learn English or French as a second language in order to prevent the province from being officially bilingual "in name only."

It said many of the challenges and frustrations voiced by the province's two linguistic communities can be alleviated if each New Brunswicker develops a proficiency in both official languages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2022.

-- with files from Keith Doucette in Halifax. Top Stories

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