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It’s no secret to most people that, in this province, language issues have come to trump all else, including literacy and common sense. Judging by the recent spate of newspaper articles from our language commissioner, and our premier’s calls for ‘tolerance and respect’ of our bilingual status, it seems the government knows it’s failing the citizens in this regard.

A quote attributed to Louis J. Robichaud, with his passage of the bill in 1969 that gave NB two official languages, says this: “The aim of this Bill is the extension of rights for all NBers. It in no way diminishes rights now enjoyed by NBers. On an individual basis it is the right of NBers to be and remain unilingual or to speak two or more languages. The objective is to ensure that no unilingual NBer 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 a woman is unilingual will not be a hindrance to the appointment and promotion in the civil service while other qualifications being equal. I think this is a fair bill and if all is treated fairly, implemented fairly and harmoniously, I believe it will lead to a much better understanding.”

Successive PC and Liberal governments have failed to ensure that the laws have been implemented fairly and harmoniously. They have miserably failed to ensure that those who, for whatever reason, are unilingual are not excluded from appointment and promotion in the civil service, especially recently. This is often true even when the unilingual has, not just equal qualifications, but has superior qualifications or other superior criteria such as amassed seniority.

As such, they have also failed to achieve better understanding, and instead have brought us to a place of incredible and unnecessary tension, fuelled solely by our politicians, special-interest groups, and individuals with something to gain by continuously threatening lawsuits whenever language policies are mentioned. Our everyday citizens, from both language groups, are longing for common sense and unity. They aren’t happy with undercover ‘language police’ in Horizon Health. They aren’t happy that three commissionaires, one of whom is a military veteran, have lost their jobs solely due to being unilingual.

While our Language Commissioner has ruled that using technology is ‘unacceptable’ in providing service in both official languages, there is nothing in the use of technology that would violate Robichaud’s vision for the province. There is nothing in our provincial legislation, in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or in the Constitution, that says service must be provided solely through personnel hiring ratios. There is also nothing in those documents that forbids the use of technology in offering and promoting both official languages.

We have technology today that LJR couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams. As an example, our ambulances are already equipped with wi-fi and dedicated ‘language lines’ staffed 24/7 by bilingual paramedics (yet, absurdly, our medics aren’t supposed to use these language lines). These language lines are accessible roadside, in homes, and in the backs of the ambulances through the radio system. It would be a rather easy fix to supplement it with real-time instant video link, achieving equal and immediate access to both languages across the province, without denying any qualified paramedic the right to a full-time job as is happening now. The city of Toronto uses technology successfully across its entire 911 system, with the ability to serve over 150 languages. Private enterprise is also successfully embracing the technology available.

Meanwhile, here in our neck of the woods, this Liberal government has been trying to bill NB as ‘the smart province’. Yet it absurdly refuses to jump into the 21st century and use the technology that would assist us in providing service in multiple languages, in every department and branch of government, to supplement staff complements without denying anyone their right to work and advance in their career. Such a small but significant move would do wonders to bring unity in the province.

But, unity doesn’t buy votes. Division does. So my guess is they will continue the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy that has gotten them to where they, sadly, are today.

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