John Chilibeck, Legislature Bureau, Nov 7, 2018
FREDERICTON • The only Tory francophone to win a seat in the provincial election says an accident he was in three years ago convinced him to support his party’s stance on ambulances, regardless of whether the paramedics are fully bilingual.
Robert Gauvin said he was travelling with a group of francophone actors and a stagehand during an April snow storm in 2015 when they slid off the highway near Woodstock.
They had just finished a late improv show in Grand Falls when the driver lost control of the big Suburban in the snow and dark.
No one was seriously hurt – Gauvin said he banged his ear on an airbag that deployed, but was otherwise OK. Two paramedics who only spoke English came to the rescue. They checked the occupants over on the side of the highway before releasing them.
“We were treated like royalty. And I was glad that someone picked us up. The next day, they called us and apologized that they weren’t able to serve us in French.”
The Liberal minority government fell last week by a razor-thin margin after the Progressive Conservatives and People’s Alliance voted it down. The fledgling Alliance has promised to support a Tory minority government for up to 18 months on confidence votes.
The Liberals and the Greens say paramedics should be bilingual, but the Tories and Alliance agree with an arbitrator’s decision earlier this year that those requirements should be loosened in communities such as Woodstock, where a big majority speak one language.
In several high-profile cases over the last several years, sick and injured people in smaller communities have languished waiting for an ambulance, which often remain parked because of a lack of personnel.
“Ideally, it should be a bilingual service but we can’t let people die on the side of the road,” Gauvin said. “Of course, we have to try for bilingualism. We need some sort of language training so that paramedics can pass the course. But the one thing we can’t do is leave the ambulances in the garages.”
The actor and first-time MLA from the Acadian Peninsula is keen to start his new job. When he was sworn in as a member three weeks ago, he made a point of taking his family on the floor of the legislature, including his 10-year-old son Charles. His own father, Jean Gauvin, a member of Richard Hatfield’s Tory cabinet, took Robert at the same age to the legislature when he was first elected in 1978. He now credits the theatrics he witnessed in the legislature for inspiring him to become an improvisational actor.
Five political scientists quizzed by Brunswick News all said Gauvin was a shoo-in for cabinet, which will be sworn in Friday, because he is the only francophone and northerner in the Tory caucus. Leader Blaine Higgs is expected to announce his decisions to his caucus members Thursday.
“He’s in a unique position representing a third of the province as a francophone,” said St. Thomas University political scientist Tom Bateman. “If he does not have a senior position, it would be one of the first massive mistakes of this new government.”
Bateman said Gauvin’s special status in the Higgs government ought to give the francophone community some comfort that their concerns will be heeded.
For his part, Gauvin said he didn’t feel any pressure from francophones.
“I go to Tim Hortons and speak to people who matter … just everyday people who say positive actions will calm everyone down,” he said. “And I know those positive actions are coming.”