November 26, 2018
To: All Canadian Senators, MPs and Premiers,
Re: Comments and Objections to Bill S209 Amendments to the Official Languages Act
As you may be aware, the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages is conducting hearings on changes to the Official Languages Act. We have serious concerns regarding these hearings. We are the Anglophone Rights Association of New Brunswick (ARANB) representing thousands of English-speaking citizens in our province. These hearings I am referring to are regarding Bill S209 “An Act to Amend the Official Languages Act” (communications with and service to the public).
Millions Being Ignored by Senate Committee
The implications of this Bill will be significant and far reaching for Anglophone Canadians. All discourse of this committee regarding this Act and changes to it, center on just two groups, Anglophones in Quebec and Francophones outside Quebec. These two linguistic minorities comprise only 5.6% (approximately 2 million people) of the total Canadian population. Contrast that with the fact that Canada has 5 million in our minority Asian community alone.
It is clear from the list of presenters that the 26 million English majority outside Quebec are not being heard from. The English-speaking community in New Brunswick have had a rather bitter experience of being ignored/excluded from language hearings in our province during the amendment process of our provincial Official Languages Act in 2012. Language laws and policies are not the sole domain of minorities, nor should they be. Any changes to the Act will affect all Canadians.
An Appearance of Bias
We wish to point out that the make up of the Committee is nearly exclusively Francophone which of course presents an image of bias within these proceedings. The four members from our province are all Francophone. This gives an appearance of bias regardless of how honorable these Senate committee members are. One could understand an outcry if the roles were reversed
Participation – A Missing Element
Our organization (ARANB) does not oppose the principle of bilingualism. We have said all along that the application of bilingualism must be such that it ensures fair and proportional participation of both linguistic communities in the running of the government, the job market and all facets of society. Ironically, the words of a former New Brunswick Premier describe our position rather well.
Premier Robichaud introducing Bill 73 The Official Languages Act in 1969:
“The aim of this Bill is the extension of rights for all New Brunswickers. …It in no way diminishes rights now enjoyed by New Brunswickers. On an individual basis it is the right of New Brunswickers to be and remain unilingual, or to speak two or more languages. …
The objective is to ensure that no unilingual New Brunswicker finds himself at a disadvantage in participating in the public life of our province….
With respect to the Civil Service, the fact that a man or woman is unilingual will not be a hindrance to appointment and promotion in the Civil Service, other qualifications being equal. I think this is a fair Bill and if all of us want to treat it fairly, implement it fairly and harmoniously, I believe it will lead to much better understanding in New Brunswick.”
Unfortunately, it has not turned out that way. In New Brunswick, Francophones already occupy a percentage of both federal and provincial public sector jobs well beyond their percentage of our general population.
The Federal government has long recognized the need for the Federal public service to reflect the make up of the society it serves. We know that in a number of federal institutions in New Brunswick, that is not the case. Therefore, an amendment to the Official Languages Act must be made to guarantee a fair participation by the two official linguistic communities in Federal institutions proportional to their numbers in the society they serve.
“Significant Demand Threshold” – Must be Understood
There is a point of practicality where providing bilingual services is not feasible. At some point in history, government chose 5% as the percentage of Francophones required in order to justify the provision of bilingual services in terms of population. This became referred to as the “significant demand threshold”. The determination of this number has become a complicated process. There is a movement by the Francophone community to change this process and to embed it in the revisions to the official languages act.
This new proposed method of calculating Francophone population would be to count bilingual Anglophones as Francophones, in an attempt to boost the threshold number. In some cases, doing so may trigger the requirement for new bilingual institutions. This is all based on a theory that bilingual Anglophones would prefer service at Federal institutions in French rather than English. This is not a valid premise for such a determination.
Francophone groups in New Brunswick are stating that our province should be exempt from any threshold due to its status as an officially bilingual province. It should be noted that New Brunswick has areas of high concentration of Anglophone population which would make it impractical to establish full bilingual services there.
Special Status for New Brunswick Francophones
The representative groups for the Francophone community are using the word “specificity” when pushing for special status for New Brunswick in the Official Languages Act. We do not know exactly what the implications of special status are, especially as to what impact such a status would mean for New Brunswick Anglophones. New Brunswick is not the harmonious linguistic haven that government tries to present. Anglophones here have serious legitimate concerns with respect to the fair application of bilingualism.
Immigration – A Balancing Act
Francophone groups have seen the reduction in the use of French in Canada according to the statistics provided by the latest census. Their response has been to call for an increase in French speaking immigrants in order to maintain the present balance in percentage of Francophones in the general population. We have no objection to managed immigration, but since Anglophones throughout Canada (other than those within Quebec) are being left out of any input into these significant proposed changes, we see potential for negative impact on us.
Certainly, there is concern about limiting the entry of immigrants with preferred skills because of language and in the long term not having a braking mechanism to ensure that the balance of Anglophones is maintained.
One of the demands being made by Francophone groups is that Part VII of the Act be amended in regard to funding for the official minorities. The intent seems to be a guarantee of minority funding. There is however, a basic question and that is: To what extent are Anglophones obliged to support our Francophone neighbors in maintaining their language and culture?
The Federal government announced this summer a further extension of the Roadmap to Linguistic Duality. This is a $2.7 billion-dollar program directed to our two official minorities (Anglophones in Quebec and Francophones outside Quebec) which as stated before constitutes 5.6% of Canada’s general population. Since the Asian Canadian population is over twice that number as a minority, what should the federal government’s commitment be to them? Is federal support to them comparable to maintain their vitality and their language?
In New Brunswick, the Roadmap offers Francophones over $80 million per year in support that the Anglophone community does not receive and is not eligible to receive. We understand that Francophones have a certain recognition (status) as one of the founding communities of Canada and yet it is understandable that Anglophones question this multi-million-dollar funding in light of the fact that 80% of that funding comes from Anglophone tax revenue.
Federal Institutions – A Significant Change
Should the proposed changes to the Official Languages Act go through, there will be 1664 government offices created as “newly bilingual” across Canada including Canada Post, RCMP, Canadian Border Services, Fisheries, Canada Broadcasting and more. From the government’s own analysis, the first years cost will be 146 million dollars and 9 million per year thereafter. Is this cost correct? We feel there should be a review of this analysis by a qualified third party.
There are some basic flaws in the consultation process pertaining to Bill S209 “Amendments to the Official Languages Act”. All Canadians will be affected by the amendments and yet the focus is on about 6% of Canadians (the two official linguistic minorities). In addition to that, the composition of the Committee is disproportional in representing the majority of Canadians in that the majority of members are Francophone. The make up of this committee needs to be changed and consultations held with groups that represent the 94% of Canadians thus far ignored which includes Anglophones outside Quebec and Francophones inside Quebec.
The most significant and important change that must be made to the Official Languages Act is to include a “participation” clause that would guarantee that government will take all necessary action to ensure that Francophones and Anglophones participate in all the government institutions and companies contracted to government in proportion to their percentage in the society they serve. If you really want to bring linguistic unity to the country, it must be done in this fair and equitable manner which is our objective.
Our experience in New Brunswick is that the application of bilingualism is problematic rather than the program itself. We have outlined here, a number of legitimate concerns regarding the present process of amending our national Official Languages Act. We ask that you do not support Bill S209 until the review process is changed so that the committee has a proportional representation of the majority Anglophone community and that the committee hears presentations from the Anglophone community from across Canada. Please review this information and respond with your comments.
Rex Tracy, President
Anglophone Rights Association of New Brunswick