Analysis | Higgs doesn't understand French people… or the Official Languages Act
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs (Archives)
In New Brunswick, Francophones criticized the Higgs government for its slowness and lack of interest in revising the Official Languages Act. When you read the last Speech from the Throne and listen carefully to what the Prime Minister says, you understand that his goal is not to protect the French-speaking minority: rather, he wants to avoid inconveniencing the English-speaking majority.
It starts with a fairly banal sentence about the French immersion program. [The] government wants to guarantee the existence of a program that will allow all [the] students to learn French so that they have a sufficient level to carry on a conversation at the end of their studies, can we read in the Speech from the Throne.
To whom is this statement addressed, really? To allstudents in the province?
No. This statement applies only to students in the Anglophone sector. The 29,262 French-speaking students are not targeted. Obviously, they do not need a program to learn to converse in French. However, we speak well of all our students. All students, except the 29,262 Francophones.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs (left) listens as Lieutenant Governor Brenda Murphy reads the Speech from the Throne in Fredericton on October 25, 2022.
The Premier Minister Blaine Higgs also clarified his thoughts during a press scrum on Tuesday. Asked about the review of the Official Languages Act, here is his answer.
My true goal is that our children can converse in both official languages when they receive their graduate from school. This is my goal.
When a reporter chased him up saying they weren't talking about the same thing – that is, the Official Languages Act is not the same thing as the education program. #x27;French immersion and bilingualism of the population – the prime minister protested.
Yes, we are talking about the same thing, because if we do not manage [to ensure that all students are bilingual], we will never achieve linguistic harmony in our province. That's why I'm so obsessed with this idea, said Blaine Higgs.
He went on to say this: How can we promote both official languages? How can we make [official languages] an interesting social experience? How can we make this fun?
So, if we summarize the thought of Blaine Higgs, the Official Languages Act must guarantee linguistic harmony in the province. And linguistic harmony will be achieved when all English-speaking graduates can converse in basic French.
Blaine Higgs would like all New Brunswickers to be able to converse in French when they finish school.
The problem is that the Official Languages Act does not claim linguistic harmony in the province.
Rather, it guarantees rights, including the rights of Francophones and Anglophones to have access to government services in their language. It makes public institutions responsible for providing services of equal quality in both official languages.
However, the Prime Minister seems to want to transfer the burden of government onto the shoulders of individuals, because if young English-speaking New Brunswickers speak a little French, they will be able to offer bilingual services.
For francophones who want to see the government strengthen language protections and adopt new measures to ensure that health care is offered everywhere in English and in French, we understand that this will not be done under this government.
For people who want the province to aim to ensure a linguistic balance in the migratory mass of people – especially Anglophones – who choose to settle there, we understand that that will not happen under this government.
The only solutions envisaged are aimed solely at Anglophones.
So much the better if, at some point, a greater proportion of the population can speak French . We only hope that by then there will still be French speakers to converse with them.